If you spent much of your professional career working in a trade or industrial environment, you may be among the many Americans exposed to asbestos, which is a group of fibers that together can cause serious health issues. While laws introduced during the 1970s sought to regulate asbestos, many who suffered exposure to the substance did not develop signs or symptoms until somewhere between 10 and 40 years later.
Among the health issues linked to asbestos exposure is asbestosis, a lung disease that develops when asbestos fibers embed themselves in your lungs, leading to scarring and related respiratory issues.
Risk factors for asbestosis
Many who develop asbestosis are older adults, and this is likely due in part to the fact that older Americans are more likely to have suffered prolonged exposure while working before asbestos regulations took effect. You may also face a higher risk of developing the lung disease if you worked in a fireproofing capacity, in the construction industry or in power plants or refineries, although those working in other fields may also face a heightened risk of exposure. Your chances of developing asbestosis also increase if you are a smoker.
Lung disease symptoms
The average time it takes for symptoms of asbestosis to appear is about 20 years, and symptoms may take on a number of different forms. Many who develop the disease experience tightening within their chests, which can lead to shortness of breath and similar respiratory issues. Others find that they experience a loss of appetite, chest pains or a persistent, dry-sounding cough. Others who suffer asbestos exposure develop enlarged fingertips, called finger-clubbing, while some also develop nail deformities.
If you think you suffered exposure
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention to determine whether asbestosis is, in fact, the root of your health problems. Your doctor will likely examine your lungs and possibly have you undergo a CT scan, biopsy or lung function test to get a better idea of what is causing your problems.
If you believe you suffered exposure to asbestos in the workplace, do not delay in seeking medical treatment.