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What patients with interstitial lung disease should know

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on May 08th, 2020

The heavy use of asbestos in various industries up until 1980, has led to serious health consequences for a large number of former industrial workers, veterans, and professionals working with asbestos products. Among the health issues that people with former exposure to asbestos face, there is ILD or interstitial lung disease.

Interstitial lung disease is not quite a disease but rather a group of several lung conditions including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. ILDs are diseases that attack the interstitium, which is the tissue around the lung's air sacs, creating inflammation and scarring (fibrosis). These types of diseases can cause lung stiffness, affect breathing, decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the bloodstream, and cause progressive lung scarring.

Patients suffering from various types of fibrosing interstitial lung disease (ILD) are at risk of a decline in lung function which substantially affects the quality of life and can provoke early mortality. The complications of asbestosis and other ILDs can be life-threatening and it's extremely important that people suffering from one of these diseases receive the correct diagnosis and start a treatment plan as soon as possible. Considering the current crisis, it's important to be aware of the risk that if ILD patients catch the novel coronavirus, they might suffer severe complications that could even lead to passing away.

What are the types of interstitial lung diseases and what causes them

As mentioned above, interstitial lung disease is a term used to refer to a multitude of chronic lung diseases, that can severely affect a patient's life quality and can even be life-threatening. Some of the most common types of ILD include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Coal worker's pneumoconiosis
  • Chronic silicosis
  • Connective tissue-related pulmonary fibrosis
  • Desquamative interstitial pneumonitis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Although the cause for some of the ILD types is unknown, there have been studies that have linked various types with toxic workplace exposure to various agents, particularly asbestos. This might have something to do with the fact that the inhalation of asbestos fibers has been known to lead to numerous severe lung conditions. How exactly the lung scarring process is triggered is not yet completely clear to scientists. Generally speaking, the respiratory system can easily manage to clear out foreign agents from the body but it seems that asbestos fibers are particularly difficult for the lungs to expel. When inhaled, these microscopic fibers get trapped inside the lungs leading to inflammation and eventually the development of serious lung diseases such as asbestosis, pulmonary fibrosis, lung nodules, pleural plaques, and even lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Interstitial lung disease caused by asbestos exposure can take as much as 30 years to show any symptoms from the time of the initial exposure. In the case of people with asbestosis, the scarring process tends to slow down when the exposure ceases. But despite that, asbestosis is still a progressive disease, which means that scarring will continue and symptoms will get worse over time.

People who were occupationally exposed to asbestos usually had little knowledge about the health risks of working with this mineral up until the 1980s, when its use was regulated. Most workers didn't have adequate protection which made it so much easier to breathe in these fibers leading to a high percentage of them eventually developing serious lung diseases. Amongst the occupations with the highest risk of exposure are:

General symptoms, misdiagnosis and life expectancy

Many ILDs are rare, which means that the patients showing symptoms associated with these disorders need a high level of expertise. The symptoms will vary depending on the disease, the stage of the disease and the person, but common symptoms of an ILD can include:

      • Shortness of breath
      • Dry cough
      • Labored breathing
      • Chest pain
      • Fever
      • Weight loss

ILD's symptoms usually progress slowly and tend to get worse over time. Given the fact that the symptoms may resemble those of other lung conditions, an accurate diagnosis is extremely important to ensure proper treatment. The life expectancy of ILD's is difficult to predict considering that some interstitial lung diseases may have a better prognosis than others. For example, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which is the most common type can have a limited outlook. The average survival rate for people with this type is around 3 to 5 years.

Because of the similarity of ILD symptoms to other lung conditions, it is often very difficult to diagnose, this is why it's recommended for people with a history of asbestos exposure to seek specialists who have experience in diagnosing and working with these types of diseases. Asbestos screening is necessary in order to determine whether or not there are fibers present inside the lungs.

Typically asbestos screening lasts around 2-3 hours and it entails a series of non-invasive medical tests such as a chest X-ray, a pulmonary function test, and a blood test. Undergoing screening that can determine whether or not there are asbestos fibers present in the lungs is also an important process in meeting the eligibility criteria for recovering compensation.

People suffering from ILD could be eligible for filing an asbestos claim

In many cases, interstitial lung disease can develop as a consequence of asbestos exposure as asbestos fibers are a known human carcinogen and extremely harmful to the human body. This is why it's highly recommended that people with a history of exposure undergo a regular medical examination, as you may not even experience any symptoms until more advanced stages of the disease. Receiving the correct diagnosis and catching the disease early on can considerably increase a patient's life expectancy.

If you have received a diagnosis of interstitial lung disease and have a history of occupational asbestos exposure, you may be entitled to compensation. If asbestos fibers are found in the lungs, you qualify for compensation from asbestos trust funds.

Our firm has over 20 years of experience in pursuing financial compensation for victims of asbestos exposure and our attorneys can promptly file a claim on your behalf in order for you to recover the rightful compensation. It's important to know though, that these types of cases typically have a statute of limitations of 3 years in most states, which means that you have to act fast. Seeking legal assistance as soon as possible is crucial for filing a claim and receiving compensation.