According to an updated 2019 policy statement from the American Public Health Association (APHA), nearly 40,000 of the estimated 255,000 global asbestos-related disease deaths occur in the United States.

In Understanding Malignant Asbestos-Related Diseases, we discussed the association between asbestos exposure and malignant (i.e., cancerous) diseases. While benign asbestos-related diseases in and of themselves are noncancerous, they may increase the risk of future malignancy.

Regardless, these afflictions (asbestosis in particular) can cause severe health complications, significantly impacting a person’s quality of life, affecting the well-being of the sick individual’s loved ones, and much more.

Encountering Asbestos In Daily Life

Per the updated APHA statement, more than 31 million metric tons of asbestos have been used in the United States. Much of this asbestos remains in buildings, consumer products, homes, and schools today. Historically, occupational asbestos exposure (e.g., on-the-job exposures experienced by insulators, electricians, mechanics, and pipefitters) is the leading cause of asbestos disease.

1. Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a life-changing and potentially fatal disease of the lung. It develops when inhaled asbestos settles and remains in the lungs, triggering fibrosis (i.e., thickening, scarring, and eventual hardening of the lung’s connective tissue).

A progressive disease, individuals who develop asbestosis often have a history of 10-20 years of heavy asbestos exposure, although some sufferers (particularly those with prior “below deck” US Naval service) develop this injury following much shorter periods of exposure.

Asbestosis symptoms include:

  • Gradually Worsening Shortness of Breath (the hallmark of asbestosis)
  • Clubbing of the Fingers
  • Dry Cough
  • Edema of the Extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Pneumothorax (i.e., collapsed lung)
  • Unintentional Weight Loss

Lung damage from asbestosis progresses slowly and is irreversible. Thus, treatment for the disease is supportive rather than corrective. The condition also increases the future risk of developing lung cancer, particularly in heavy smokers.

2. Pleural Effusions

Pleural effusions (sometimes referred to as fluid or water on the lungs) are characterized by excessive fluid buildup between the two layers of the pleura, the visceral and parietal pleurae—two thin linings encasing each lung.

In the context of asbestos exposure, pleural effusions can occur due to irritation from asbestos fibers that have migrated from the lung parenchyma and become stuck in the pleura. Cancerous tumors in the pleura, notably those seen in pleural mesothelioma, can also cause asbestos-related effusions. Pleural effusions often serve as harbingers of an undiagnosed mesothelioma.

Small effusions may not lead to any symptoms and are revealed as incidental findings on chest X-rays and CT Scans. However, larger effusions can be problematic and may present with the following symptoms:

  • Chest Pain
  • Difficult/Labored Breathing
  • Dry Cough
  • Orthopnea

Treatment methods for pleural effusions causing severe respiratory symptoms include:

3. Pleural Plaques

Bilateral, calcified pleural plaques are the most common asbestos condition seen in the United States. If a patient’s radiology studies reveal the presence of bilateral, calcified pleural plaques, the patient has assuredly experienced material asbestos exposure decades ago.

Doctors identify pleural plaques as thickening that typically forms on the parietal pleura of both lungs. These plaques can be sizeable and often have well-defined edges, creating a distinct appearance on chest X-rays.

This health issue is typically asymptomatic. However, if the plaquing is particularly widespread, thick, and hardened, the plaques can cause shortness of breath by restricting the movement of the lungs. Patients who have pleural plaques are typically advised to avoid smoking and undergo regular radiological evaluations for early detection of any asbestos malignancy that may develop over time.

Receive the Compensation You Deserve

You do not have to shoulder the weight of asbestos disease and injury and the accompanying financial impacts on your own. Call the O’Brien Law Firm today and connect with our experienced attorneys, who will advocate for your rights and help you receive the compensation you deserve.

Please call (314) 588-0558 or complete our online contact form and schedule a free case evaluation.