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.
Asbestosis is a type of interstitial lung disease that’s caused by prolonged exposure to a naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos. Additionally, interstitial lung disease (ILD) is an umbrella term that medical professionals use to describe a group of conditions that cause scarring (otherwise known as a fibrosis) of the lungs and surrounding tissues.
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:
- Roofing shingles
- Automobile clutches and breaks
- Heat resistant fabrics and materials
- 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
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 are still using asbestos in construction, with approximately 90% of it being 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.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
On some occasions, veterans may not notice signs of asbestosis until 10 to 40 years after initial exposure. Consequently, related diagnosis is mostly in older veterans. 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.
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:
- How far along is my disease?
- What treatment and medications do you recommend for me?
- Will there be side effects?
- Do you advise any other treatment methods besides medication?
- How much experience do you have managing asbestosis?
- Should I seek specialized care?
- 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 the Disease
The damage done from asbestos is irreversible. Consequently, no medication or treatment option can reverse the illness. Still, some 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, coupled with breathing therapies, can also 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)
Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.
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
Chat with a medical professional about any advice for managing the disease they may have for you as well.
What’s the Difference Between Asbestosis and Mesothelioma?
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 lining of the pleura, peritoneum, or pericardium 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.
Legal Recourse for Veterans with Asbestosis
There are asbestos bans and regulations 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.