Asbestos and my Asthma

Patient

Q: This past week at work I uncovered asbestos. I usually would not care but I suffer from severe Asthman I carried out my job covered in asbestos and inhaling lots of it after digging out two metres of solid asbestos from a pipe chase. At this time I was not aware that this was asbestos. I have now been informed that it is made up of white, blue and brown types of asbestos. What effects will this have on my health as I have had no information from my employer?

Doctor

A:   I am sorry to hear the details of your asbestos exposure at work and can understand the considerable concern and worry you now face. It is impossible to predict what if any effect this will have on your future health. At the risk of producing more questions than answers, I will endeavour to demystify the situation for you in general terms. Asbestosis is simply defined as inflammation of the lung due to the inhalation of asbestos particles. Over many years of exposure to small particles of asbestos either at work or from other sources, the outer part of the lung may eventually become irritated by the asbestos fibres. This irritation may possibly lead onto inflammation and eventually fibrosis, scarring and deterioration in respiratory function. Asbestosis therefore is a diffuse interstitial fibrosing disease of the lung that is related to the intensity and duration of exposure. Usually, moderate to severe exposure needs to have taken place for at least 10 years before the disease can develop. To add to the confusion, 20 years or more may elapse between exposure to asbestos and developing symptoms of the disease. Symptomatically, asbestosis resembles other forms of lung fibrosis and is classified as an interstitial lung disease. It may rarely be associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. The so-called interstitial lung diseases represent a variety of conditions that are non-malignant and are not caused by any defined infectious agents. Although an acute phase of illness may occur, the onset is often gradual, and the disease is usually chronic in duration. Asbestosis therefore is an example of a known cause of interstitial lung disease.

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