Our respiratory system is designed to immediately expel foreign matter which was inhaled so as to prevent it from causing inflammation within the lungs. However, asbestos fibers are highly irritating and also have a rough texture, which makes it very difficult for our lungs to eliminate them once they attach themselves to tissue. Thus, the asbestos fibers embedded in lung tissue will cause severe inflammation over the years. Subsequently, scarring ensues as a result of the body's attempt to repair the damage. With scarring, lung tissue becomes thicker, and consequently, people who suffer from pulmonary fibrosis experience breathing difficulty.
Because it is a progressive disease, pulmonary fibrosis typically occurs in 10 to 30 years from the first asbestos exposure. As the disease advances, less and less oxygen is delivered to internal organs, which may bring about a series of other health issues, such as pulmonary hypertension. When it can no longer be kept under control with treatment, pulmonary fibrosis will eventually lead to respiratory failure.
The most common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include:
- a dry cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- nail clubbing
- unintentional weight loss
Despite their similar mechanism of development, pulmonary fibrosis is more aggressive than asbestosis, which translates to a poor prognosis for the vast majority of patients. On average, people who struggle with this illness will lose between 150 and 200 milliliters of lung capacity every year. While the life expectancy for pulmonary fibrosis is approximately 5 years, early detection can prolong survival to a great extent. Unfortunately, there is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis. Scarring is irreversible and will continue to worsen over time. However, benefiting from effective treatment, as well as operating a series of lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and adopting a healthier diet, can slow down the progress of the disease tremendously.