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by Wendy Stackhouse · August 20, 2014

What are the Main Asbestos Poisoning Symptoms?

Asbestos dish towels Photo by Asbestorama via Flickr Creative Commons

While asbestos is no longer the large-scale, go-to ingredient for industrial products such as insulation, fire retardants, and flooring, it is still seemingly everywhere. The problem is that its applications were so widespread for over a century before its dangers were fully understood and regulated. Millions of homes, office buildings, housing complexes, schools, government buildings, etc. that were built before 1970 may have asbestos hidden somewhere within its walls, and thus pose a health risk to occupants.

Just as the best way to know if asbestos is in a building is to get the structure checked out by a professional, one should also consult a doctor to know for sure if he or she is suffering from an asbestos-related ailment. As a general warning of the signs one should know, here are some of the diseases and asbestos poisoning symptoms.

1. Asbestosis – According to the American Lung Association, asbestosis (interstitial pneumonitis) is a scarring on the lung tissue from breathing in asbestos fibers. The lungs are unable to take in oxygen properly, resulting in a low blood oxygen levels. The main symptoms of asbestosis include:

    • Shortness of breath
    • A persistent and productive cough (a cough that expels mucus)
    • Chest tightness
    • Chest pain
    • Loss of appetite
    • A dry, crackling sound in the lungs while breathing in

Doctors can detect asbestosis through a physical exam or lung function test. They can also find it through Biopsy, CT scan or X-ray. Asbestosis is incurable, but the symptoms are manageable through treatment.

2. Mesothelioma – Most cases refer specifically to malignant mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, or abdomen. It is the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases due to its aggressive nature. It is also the most difficult to diagnose because its symptoms resemble other ailments, such as adenocarcinoma. Common symptoms include:

    • Chest wall pain
    • Pleural effusion, or fluid surrounding the lung
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue or anemia
    • Wheezing, hoarseness, or cough
    • Blood in the sputum coughed up

In more advanced cases, abdominal tumors may develop. Other symptoms of advanced mesothelioma include:

    • Ascites
    • Blood clots
    • Jaundice
    • Low blood sugar
    • Pleural effusion
    • Pulmonary emboli

Mesothelioma is diagnosed through a combination of imaging scans and a biopsy. While there is no cure for the mesothelioma, it can be treated through chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

3. Lung Cancer – Though this may not be unique to asbestos exposure, lung cancer is a common diseases related to asbestos poisoning. Its symptoms can be divided into three categories: respiratory, systemic and related.

    • Respiratory: coughing, coughing up blood, wheezing or shortness of breath
    • Systemic: weight loss, fever, clubbing of the fingernails, or fatigue
    • Related: chest pain, bone pain, superior vena cava obstruction, difficulty swallowing

Doctors can diagnose lung cancer through a chest radiograph. Treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and palliative care.

4. Other Asbestos-Related Issues – Asbestos poisoning has been connected to other forms of cancer, including all parts of the GI tract (esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum) and cancer of the larynx. Asbestos poisoning is also connected to pleural plaques, asbestos bodies and warts.

Asbestos poisoning is tricky because the symptoms take a long time to reveal themselves, sometimes as long as two decades. There are also variables that will impact the severity of one’s symptoms. Those variables include the amount of asbestos that was inhaled, how long a person was exposed to it, and the specifics of the asbestos fibers inhaled. The most important thing is to do is be proactive about seeking help once the symptoms appear since some of the diseases – particularly mesothelioma – are already at an advanced stage when they appear. But with proper and early treatment, they can be managed, and sometimes even overcome.

If you would like to learn more about asbestos, click here to read some of our other resources.

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