Living with Asbestos in Your Lungs: How Long Can You Survive?

Asbestosis is a chronic and progressive lung condition caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. It can take five to 20 years for symptoms to appear, and patients typically live an average of 10 years with asbestosis. Lung transplant is the best long-term treatment for asbestosis, but few patients qualify for this serious procedure. Other treatments help control symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.The effects of prolonged exposure to asbestos usually do not manifest until 10-40 years after initial exposure.

Many people with mild asbestosis can lead a full life for many years after diagnosis, but some cases worsen over time. You may need medical treatment throughout your life. Inhaled asbestos fibers accumulate in the lungs, causing scarring (fibrosis) that develops a “honeycomb” appearance. Scar tissue, or “fibrosis,” is hard and inflexible, making the lungs stiff and preventing them from working properly.Asbestosis causes shortness of breath, chest tightness, persistent cough, and the skin may have a bluish tint due to lack of oxygen.

Getting enough oxygen from each breath requires a much greater effort. It can also lead to respiratory failure and death. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease.Asbestosis can be diagnosed by X-ray (fibrosis looks cloudy on chest x-rays) or a lung function test. People who smoke are more likely to get asbestosis than those who don't smoke.

If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it is important to stop smoking to reduce your risk of getting asbestosis. If you quit smoking, you also reduce your risk of getting lung cancer.When dust is aspirated, asbestos fibers enter the lungs and can damage them gradually over time. It is not possible to reverse lung damage caused by exposure to asbestos. However, there are treatment options for these diseases that can help reduce symptoms or slow the progression of the disease and help you live longer.How likely a person will develop an asbestos-related disease depends on how much asbestos he was exposed to and for how long.

The use of asbestos was probably its peak in the mid to late 1970s, but asbestos cement products, such as asbestos ducts and water pipes, were still being installed in the 1990s. This means that even though asbestos is no longer used, materials containing asbestos are still found in many older buildings.Since 31 December 2003, asbestos and all products containing asbestos have been banned throughout Australia. Measures that can help reduce exposure to asbestos during work include wearing protective equipment (such as a proper mask), cleaning on the go (using a vacuum cleaner or damp rags, rather than sweeping), and not using power tools whenever possible.Asbestosis is a relatively rare condition because it takes a considerable degree of exposure to asbestos to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for many years. Any heavily damaged asbestos material that cannot be protected must be removed by someone who is properly trained.

However, it's important to note that you don't need to be diagnosed with asbestosis to develop mesothelioma or other asbestos-related lung cancer.Although asbestos is no longer widely used in the UK, it is still important to take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure, as it is still found in many older buildings. The families of asbestos workers may also have been exposed to asbestos fibers brought into their homes. Australia has the highest national rate of mesothelioma reported in the world, presumably related to the large amount of asbestos used in the past.Asbestos can cause scarring, inflammation, and several types of serious lung problems including pleural effusions, pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. However, the importation, supply and use of brown (amosite) and blue (crocidolite) asbestos were not banned in the United Kingdom until 1985.

Marissa Trafford
Marissa Trafford

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