Asbestosis and Lung Diseases in Veterans

Asbestosis is similar to mesothelioma in that it’s caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. The disease affects the lungs and can cause people to have extensive breathing issues.

Closeup of a doctor looking at the x-ray results of asbestosis.

What’s Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a lung disease that scars the lungs and pleura and is caused directly by asbestos exposure. This disease is developed from long-term asbestos exposure over a period of months or years. As the asbestos fibers are inhaled, they begin to lodge themselves in the lungs or pleural lining as a person is breathing. Asbestos exposure causes irreversible lung and body damage and may lead to mesothelioma or other health-related issues. No treatment will reverse the damage of asbestosis, but some therapies are available to help manage the symptoms.

A 2012 study estimated that asbestosis accounts for around 1,000 deaths each year. Deaths across the united states associated with asbestosis are hard to determine because of it being similar to many respiratory diseases, which means it may not have been recorded as the manner of death. This slow-developing disease may take up to 50 years to show signs of symptoms. The history of asbestos exposure was known as early as 1890. The first cases of asbestosis and lung cancer in the U.S. connected to asbestos came around 1935. Since then public health officials warned industrial companies and people working around it of the potential for health issues.

Asbestosis and Common Areas Associated

There was a time when medical professionals didn’t know about asbestos toxicity. The mineral was, however, known for its enduring qualities. It was resistant to fire, electricity, and chemical corrosion and was used heavily to reinforce many structures, construction projects, and products. Some of the more common products that asbestos can still be found today include:

  • Insulation
  • Roofing shingles
  • Automobile clutches and breaks
  • Heat resistant fabrics and materials
  • Pipes
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Oil, coal furnaces, boilers, and door gaskets
  • Air duct coverings

Asbestos develops as a bundle of tightly wound fibers. Adding to that, when manufacturers use the mineral in construction, demolition, or renovation projects, the fibers may expel into the air. Once airborne, those working in the area may inhale or swallow the spindly fibers. Once the fibers become lodged in the lungs, they begin scratching and irritating the tissue around them. After several years of asbestos fibers irritating the lung tissues, scarring can occur, and a person can develop asbestosis.

Veterans and Asbestosis Risks Over Time

By 1910, the United States had purchased over 43% of the world’s asbestos. Moreover, the U.S. Military also purchased commercial and construction asbestos products. Consequently, for several years, they used the mineral in a number of projects.

Even today, some states and developing countries still use asbestos in construction, with approximately 90% employed in cement building materials and 7% in friction materials, textiles, and other building products. Some places that veterans could have been exposed to asbestos include:

  • Demolished buildings
  • Military barracks and bases
  • Military vehicles and aircraft
  • Navy shipyards

Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.

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Mesothelioma doctor explaining stage one cancer to an elderly couple.

Asbestosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Asbestosis symptoms can vary and may not always be a cause for alarm. Beginning signs of asbestosis include coughing, chest pain, and exhaustion. As the disease progresses and it’s been left untreated, severe symptoms like clubbing of your fingernails, crackling sounds when breathing, and shortness of breath become present and could cause you to seek medical attention. A doctor may not be able to give you a definitive diagnosis as these symptoms often represent the same ones of respiratory diseases. Diseases such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, and asbestosis all share similar symptoms. As they all obstruct the functions of the lungs, doctors may give you treatments for them rather than asbestosis.

Diagnosing asbestosis is difficult and may not always be possible. The main way to diagnose is through the use of imaging scans and lung function tests. On the scans, doctors are looking for excessive white spots on your lungs representing the diseased areas. Lung function tests aim to show a doctor how well your lungs perform under stress. Both avenues may not lead to a conclusive diagnosis, so monitoring your symptoms becomes important. Keeping track of your symptoms and making a note of when or if they become more serious may warrant another trip to the doctor.

Some of the most common symptoms of asbestosis are:

  • Chronic dry cough
  • Clubbing (wider and rounder than average fingertips and toes)
  • Dry popping sound in the lungs when taking a breath
  • Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness or pain in the chest

Most importantly, if you experience symptoms and believe you’ve been exposed to the toxic mineral during your time of service or otherwise, head over to a VA hospital or cancer treatment center and get examined as soon as possible.

Related Questions to Ask Your Doctor

An asbestosis diagnosis can be intimidating, however, if you receive one, you could ask for a referral to a doctor with specialized experience in managing asbestosis. Additionally, some questions you could ask your doctor about the illness include:

  1. How far along is my disease?
  2. What treatment and medications do you recommend for me?
  3. Will there be side effects?
  4. Do you advise any other treatment methods besides medication?
  5. How much experience do you have managing asbestosis?
  6. Should I seek specialized care?
  7. Is my family at risk?

Ask your doctor any other questions you may have on top of these. However, this set of questions is a good place to start.

Treating and Managing Asbestosis

The damage done by asbestos is irreversible. Consequently, no medication or treatment option can reverse the illness. Still, some asbestosis treatments and therapies can stop it from progressing and causing pain or discomfort to the patient. One top factor, of course, is avoiding all contact with asbestos moving forward.

Additionally, specific medications your doctor may prescribe and breathing therapies can help maintain and manage the illness. Other treatment recommendations your doctor may provide are:

  • Quitting smoking, as the smoke will aggravate the lungs and tissue even more
  • An oxygen tank for oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation (specialized exercise program)
  • Surgery (in severe cases)

Your doctor will help you with the management of your symptoms, but there are proactive steps you can take to increase your quality of life with asbestosis. Some steps you can take to reinforce your health include:

  • A well-balanced diet with limited salt and a lot of water
  • Getting enough sleep every night and taking a nap during the day if needed
  • Trying to exercise regularly (without over-exerting yourself)
  • Fighting infections by washing hands often
  • Staying current on flu and pneumonia shots
  • Avoiding air pollution and high pollen counts
  • Stay away from breathing pollutants like secondhand smoke, traffic fumes, and smog
  • Protect your mouth and nose with a scarf from the colder, frigid air

Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.

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A man calling Mesothelioma Vets hotline.

Asbestosis Causes and Connection to Mesothelioma

The only known cause of asbestosis and mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral mined in the U.S. and internationally. It has widely been used for its heat-resistant qualities among the military, boilermakers, construction, shipyard, steelwork, and plumbing industries. Occupational workers in those industries, plus more, may have been exposed to asbestos and could develop asbestosis or mesothelioma and could also seek worker’s compensation.

The differentiating factor between the two is mesothelioma is cancerous, while asbestosis is a disease. Mesothelioma can spread beyond the initial area of infection and eventually overtake the body if no treatment is sought. Asbestosis remains in the lungs where the scar tissue originally formed, and side effects may worsen over time. People and workers exposed to asbestos have a higher chance of getting lung cancer, having issues with their digestive system, or developing other forms of cancer. Since asbestos is inhaled and sticks to the lungs, issues with the respiratory system may become more persistent.

How exactly are these diseases different? Another common illness that develops from prolonged asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is a more severe condition. It’s a form of cancer that develops in the pleura, peritoneum, or pericardium lining and can take anywhere from 20-40 years to develop. Of all mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S., veterans make up one-third of those diagnosed.

Occupational Asbestos Exposure Prevention

There are multiple occupations that may come in contact with asbestos and knowing how to protect yourself and your employees will help them stay healthy while working around asbestos. Most states have established asbestos criteria for how to manage the handling of asbestos. Professionals who work with the abatement of asbestos are required to be trained and licensed in the best practices for disposing of it. People who work around asbestos should wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes:

  • Full-body coveralls
  • Headcover
  • Shoe or foot covers
  • Goggles covering the eyes
  • A respirator or N95 face mask

All equipment and clothing used around asbestos should be disposable or removed from the area in an air-tight container. Areas, where asbestos is being removed or disturbed should have a vent for air ventilation or a HEPA filter that collects any stray asbestos fibers. Proper air circulation is key to ensuring asbestos exposure is nonexistent or very minimal. Secondhand exposure to asbestos can occur with family and friends if those working around asbestos don’t wear PPE and take it home on their hair, skin, or clothes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are all governing bodies that help to regulate asbestos. In 1977, the EPA labeled asbestos as a carcinogen which led to heightened awareness of the effects asbestos had on those who worked in and around it daily. Asbestos regulations have only become stricter as those who once worked around asbestos are now starting to see the devastating effects and are being diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Treatment and Emotional Support Resources for Asbestos Exposure Patients

There is no treatment available that will reverse the damage done with asbestosis. Some therapies can be done to help ease the effects of symptoms and increase the quality of life. Therapies include options for a person to do by themselves at home, but also options that require a doctor to do. To manage your asbestosis, you can make changes to your lifestyle, including:

  • Eating a nutritious and balanced diet
  • Hydrating daily
  • Getting adequate sleep every night
  • Exercising to help expand lung capacity
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products

Doctors may prescribe you supplemental oxygen with a portable tank to ensure your oxygen levels are at the right levels. They may also suggest part-taking in pulmonary rehab. Participating in pulmonary rehabilitation includes education and exercise in a group setting that will help you work on your lung capacity, increase your fitness, and allow you to receive feedback and communication from others suffering from chronic lung disease. Drug therapy, specifically steroids, has been used in the past to help suppress the inflammatory process in the lungs, but it’s not used often as the success rate is not high. The most invasive approach to managing asbestosis is through a lung transplant. This may be given as a last resort option to those who have severe scarring and have tried multiple other therapies.

If you are searching for a different option for therapy, new clinical trials are finding viable treatments. These trials may be difficult to enter as the parameters for those accepted into the program may be specific to age, gender, or severity of disease. Consult with your doctor about which clinical trial would suit you best.

Living with an incurable disease can take effect on a person’s mental health. Asbestosis and mesothelioma emotional support groups are available both in-person and with online Zoom formats. Understanding the circumstances surrounding your disease may help you better come to terms with your prognosis, diagnosis, or treatment plans. Feelings of anxiety and depression may arise and it is important to know you are not alone. Speaking with people going through a similar reality may help you come to terms with your reality. People with asbestosis who are searching for support groups can check out a few of these options:

  • Go2 For Lung Cancer: This organization offers support groups for all people affected by lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases in all 50 states. Their sessions aim to help people have a safe space to talk about anything related to their diagnosis.
  • Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO): A non-profit organization with the mission to bring attention to preventing asbestos exposure, eliminating asbestos-related diseases, and offering support to those who are affected by it. Their support groups are available online to patients and their families working towards accepting their feelings towards their diagnosis.
  • National Cancer Institute: A part of the federal government agency that focuses on cancer research with the end goal of finding a cure for numerous cancers. Part of their services include support groups online and over the phone for mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. Contact your local hospital to find a specific support group through their organization.

Asbestosis Lawyers and Asbestosis Lawsuit Avenues

Your exposure to asbestos resulting in asbestosis may give you access to legal options. A lawsuit could be filed for those exposed on the job without knowing and now suffering the consequences. There are a few legal routes you can take depending on your unique situation and they could include:

1. Asbestos Trust Funds: These trust funds are set up with companies to help pay former or current employees who have sued their employer for wrongful asbestos exposure. A company can file bankruptcy and the business remains protected under a special law, even after receiving multiple asbestos lawsuits. A person filing a lawsuit intending to receive money from the asbestos trust fund will need to prove their employment to that company and their exposure to a certain product.

2. Personal Injury Lawsuits: This lawsuit can be filed individually by the patient who is claiming personal injury due to someone else’s negligence. Many patients file these in an effort to hold the asbestos manufacturing companies accountable for their wrongful exposure.

3. Settlements: Many people diagnosed with asbestosis and mesothelioma will file a settlement with their company or employer to help pay for the financial difficulties they faced because of their diagnosis. Many patients want a settlement to help cover the cost of their treatment, lost wages, and other support needed during their journey.

4. Worker’s Compensation: If you were exposed to asbestos while working and can no longer work because of your diagnosis, your employer may be at fault for your exposure and should have to pay for your lost wages. Filing a worker’s compensation claim may provide relief in knowing you can undergo treatment and therapy sessions while still being able to afford daily living costs.

A lawyer or attorney who specializes in asbestos cases can help you navigate the ins and outs of filing one of the above-mentioned lawsuits. The process for getting legal help and receiving your compensation can vary. Gathering the necessary documentation to prove you were exposed to asbestos and your employer or a company was at fault can take a while. The average time it takes for a patient to receive their compensation can vary from 90 days to a year, depending on whether the case goes to trial or is settled before then.

What to do After a Diagnosis

After receiving your asbestosis diagnosis, you should learn about all of your options for treatment, how to prevent further asbestos exposure, resources for emotional support, and any lawsuits you can file for. These are important topics to be well-versed in so you can help support yourself, a family member, or a friend who has asbestosis.

We realize this is a lot to digest. We are here to give you answers to your most asked questions and allow a line of communication for you to ask any additional questions. Our patient advocates include attorneys and specialists who allow you to feel secure in your legal help and medical treatment choices. Medical specialists in the field of asbestos-related diseases and cancer work hard to find patients options for their diagnosis. New and promising treatment research and clinical trials pop up every year with the hope of finding a cure. There are 2024 asbestos bans and regulations in motion that protect workers and residents from negligent asbestos exposure. If a doctor diagnosed you with asbestosis (or other asbestos-related condition like mesothelioma), companies responsible for exposure may owe compensation for your illness. Talk to an attorney and they’ll assess your case and advise on how to move forward.