What is asbestosis?
Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that results in shortness of breath. The condition is incurable, but treatment is available to help manage the symptoms. Asbestosis is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.
How common is asbestosis?
It is difficult to estimate the exact number of people who are affected by asbestosis. This is due to the fact that many people with the condition mistake their symptoms of breathlessness as a natural consequence of ageing and do not report their symptoms.
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The health risks of asbestos
If undamaged, asbestos does not present a health risk. However, if it becomes chipped, or broken, asbestos can release a fine dust made up of tiny asbestos fibres. If someone breathes in the dust, the fibres can damage the lungs and trigger asbestosis.
The symptoms of asbestosis usually begin many years after the initial exposure. Most cases of asbestosis begin 15-20 years after exposure, although it can take as many as 40 years for symptoms to become apparent.
Health concerns regarding asbestos were raised as far back as 1898, but it was not until the 1970s that strict regulations were introduced to regulate the use of asbestos and limit an employee’s exposure to it.
The use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 and it is now also banned in all EU countries. However, asbestos is still widely used in the developing world.
In the most serious cases, asbestosis can place an enormous strain on a person’s health and shorten their life expectancy. In the UK, in 2005, there were 134 deaths where asbestosis was mentioned as an underlying cause.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in 2005 there were 825 new claims for disability benefits as a result of asbestosis. It is expected that this figure will rise in the years ahead.
People with asbestosis also have a high risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the membranes that cover many of your body’s organs.
Both lung cancer and mesothelioma can develop many years after the initial exposure to asbestos; usually between 40-60 years.
The prognosis for lung cancer is poor with only 10% of people achieving a cure. However, with treatment, it is possible to extend life for many years.
The prognosis for mesothelioma is also very poor. Around 85% of people who are diagnosed with the condition will die within three years of being diagnosed.
Every year in the UK there are approximately 1,800 deaths as a result of mesothelioma. However, like asbestosis, this figure is expected to rise in the years ahead due to the prolonged gap between exposure to asbestos and the onset of the cancer. Experts believe that by 2050, 90,000 people in the UK will have died as a result of mesothelioma
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