Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition caused by exposure to excessive amounts of asbestos fibres. When asbestos fibres are inhaled they can become trapped in the lungs causing inflammation and fine scarring of the lung tissue (lung fibrosis). This can cause the lungs to contract and harden; consequently, the lungs’ capacity becomes reduced so they cannot hold as much air.
Asbestosis develops in workers who have been heavily exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period. It therefore typically affects people who worked directly with asbestos materials.
People who worked in the following occupations may be at a high risk of developing lung cancer:
- Asbestos products manufacture
- Spraying asbestos
- Construction workers
- Insulation workers/laggers
- Power station workers
- Railway engineers
The condition usually develops 20 to 30 years after the initial asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis can be asymptomatic. There may be evidence of scarring on an x-ray or scan but the sufferer may not be experiencing any physical symptoms. Once symptoms do develop they may remain static or they can become worse over time.
Common symptoms of asbestosis include:
- Persistent cough
- Fatigue or extreme tiredness
- Chest or shoulder pain
- Weight loss
- Blood in the sputum
- Clubbing of the fingertips
- Crackles on breathing in
Asbestosis is a type of lung fibrosis so it is sometimes mistaken for other types of lung fibrosis which have similar symptoms.
If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and are experiencing any of the above symptoms you should see your GP as soon as possible, who will refer you to your local hospital for further tests.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with asbestosis you may be entitled to compensation, even if the company you worked for has closed down.
You may also be entitled to other financial assistance or benefits such as Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Disability Living Allowance or a payment under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers Compensation) Act 1979.