Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease characterized by a scarring of lung tissues, which leads to long-term breathing complications. The disease does not have a cure. It is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos, but may not be diagnosed until decades after the exposure occurred. The first symptom of asbestosis is usually shortness of breath following exercise or other physical activity. The early stages of the disease are also characterized by a dry cough and a generalized feeling of illness.
Diagnosing asbestosis is not simple, and it can mean a number of visits to the doctor and a variety of tests. It's possible or even likely that a primary care physician may not be able to diagnose or detect asbestosis because its early symptoms are like those of so many other conditions. For this reason, patients may be sent to an oncologist or pulmonologist for additional testing. An oncologist or pulmonologist can determine which tests or imaging scans are needed and how to evaluate each of them.
Anyone who develops symptoms of asbestosis should see a family physician or lung disease specialist. A doctor should be notified if someone who has been diagnosed with asbestosis: coughs up blood, continues to lose weight, short of breath.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 11 million people were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1978.2 to 10% of people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos will develop pleural mesothelioma — the most common type.