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Asbestos diseases: the destructive results of asbestos exposure

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Asbestos diseases don’t generally show themselves until several decades after the initial exposure, which is why we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of deaths from asbestos-related disease over the last 50 years.

If you’re worried that your health may have been compromised by historic asbestos exposure, or you currently work with the substance and feel you are at risk, what asbestos diseases can manifest as a result?

Malignant asbestos diseases

Malignant mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma can affect the pleura, the external lining of the lungs, and less commonly the peritoneum which is the membrane covering the abdominal organs. Symptoms don’t generally appear until the disease has reached a late stage, making it very difficult to treat.

Sufferers can experience a range of issues, including shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, coughing, fever, as well as chest and back pain. Tragically, the prognosis for mesothelioma victims is typically less than 12 months.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Along with smoking, asbestos exposure is known to be one of the most common causes of lung cancer. It’s difficult to establish exact figures with regard to instances of asbestos-related lung cancer, as smoking and asbestos exposure in combination increase an individual’s risk.

Symptoms can include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, fatigue, respiratory infections, chest pain, and hoarseness of the throat. Prognosis is generally a few years, with potential treatment options including radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Non-malignant asbestos diseases

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is one of the most common asbestos diseases and one that, although not malignant, can increase the chances of lung cancer in the future. It causes irreversible scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue, compromising the ability to breathe normally.

Other symptoms often include a chronic cough, wheezing, fatigue, and chest or shoulder pain. Progressive shortness of breath is typically experienced over a period of time, with treatment options including oxygen therapy.

Diffuse pleural thickening

Diffuse pleural thickening is a non-cancerous asbestos disease that causes extensive scarring on the pleura, the outer lining of the lungs. This makes it more and more difficult for the lungs to expand, typically causing breathlessness and chest pain.

This asbestos disease can also result in pleural effusions, the accumulation of excess fluid in the pleural cavity which causes further compression of the lungs. As with many asbestos diseases, diffuse pleural thickening is associated with lengthy periods of exposure to asbestos in an occupational setting.

Pleural plaques

Pleural plaques aren’t as serious as pleural thickening, and sufferers don’t generally experience noticeable symptoms. They’re often discovered as a result of undergoing x-rays for other issues, but are a clear sign that exposure to asbestos has taken place in the past.

Asbestos diseases are pervasive in our society today due to the legacy of widespread industrial and commercial asbestos use. Acorn Analytical Services provide expert advice and guidance on all asbestos-related matters including asbestos sampling and testing, asbestos surveys, and asbestos removal. Please call one of our professional consultants to find out how we can help.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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