Asbestosis, an incurable chronic lung disease, is one of the many dangers related to asbestos exposure and can have a significant effect on both life expectancy and quality of life. With asbestosis deaths on the rise, exposure to asbestos continues to be a 21st Century problem.
Much like other asbestos-related illnesses, asbestosis is characterised by a long latency period, with most sufferers being diagnosed 20-30 years after their exposure to asbestos.
An asbestosis diagnosis is often met with shock and anger, with patients feeling a sense of hopelessness after developing a chronic illness because of decades-old exposure to a toxic material.
Seeking help in the aftermath of an asbestosis diagnosis can help you come to terms with your condition and you may find that you are eligible for compensation, which could be vital in securing a financial future for you and your family.
As experts in asbestos-related claims, the Industrial Disease team at Simpson Millar can help you to process your diagnosis and will explain the steps required to establish causation and make a compensation claim.
To help sufferers, and their families, understand asbestosis we can explain:
Who Is At Risk Of Asbestosis?
With a blanket ban on asbestos not coming into force in the UK until 1999, any buildings – both residential and industrial – built before the year 2000 could expose inhabitants to asbestos.
Due to the UK's slow reaction to asbestos, many workers now reaching retirement age could have been exposed to asbestos throughout the 20th Century. While dormant asbestos does not pose an immediate health risk, once the material is disturbed small particles can be inhaled and coat the lungs, slowly causing damage over a period of decades.
This damage resulted in diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and pleural thickening.
With asbestos exposure most prevalent in the workplace – statistics estimate that 125 million people worldwide could be exposed to asbestos while at work – there are certain industries that are classified as high-risk.
Due to the fact that asbestos becomes dangerous once it is disturbed and released into the air, most of the occupations that are considered at risk involve manual labour and are linked with the construction industry, where workers are still discovering dormant asbestos from before the blanket ban came into force.
It is estimated that as many as 20 tradespeople could be dying from asbestos damage to their lungs every week.
While tradespeople and those working in construction are the most likely to be exposed to asbestos and, in turn, develop asbestosis, anybody works in one of the 500,000 non-domestic that still have asbestos can be struck by the illness.
Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlight that cases of asbestosis have risen significantly in recent decades:
- In 2013, asbestosis was considered a contributing factor in 516 deaths; in 1978 this figure was just 109
- There were around 1,000 newly assessed cases of asbestosis in 2014, this figure sat well below 200 in 1978
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Symptoms Of Asbestosis
As asbestosis is associated with scarring of the lung tissue, the main complication associated with the condition is breathing problems with sufferers showing the following symptoms:
- Decreased tolerance to exercise, characterised by shortness of breath
- A persistent cough
- Pain in the chest
- Weight loss
- Swelling in the face and neck
- In some instances, swollen fingertips (caused by a decrease of oxygenated blood flow to the extremities)
Due to the debilitating nature of the condition, some of these symptoms may only present themselves intermittently at first, after physical exertion for example, but may become more severe as time goes by.
As the latency period for asbestosis is around 20-30 years, asbestosis is most common in people who were working with asbestos in the 80s and 90s. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms and suspect you may have been exposed to asbestos in your working life, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
While asbestosis itself does not often result in death, in 2013 the condition was recorded as the underlying cause of death 217 times, it can increase the likelihood of developing further conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer and mesothelioma
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The damage done to the lungs by asbestos cannot be reversed, meaning that there is no cure for asbestosis. Due to the lack of an asbestosis cure, treatments are often palliative in nature and focus on relieving symptoms instead of riding a sufferer of asbestosis altogether.
Generally speaking, life expectancy falls after an asbestosis diagnosis, but there are various medicines and treatments available that will allow a sufferer to live for many years after diagnosis.
Some common medications that are prescribed to help with the symptoms of asbestosis include:
- Inhalers: Inhalers can help with shortness of breath and reduce wheezing in asbestosis sufferers
- Pain relief: A favourite of pain medication may be recommended by your GP, as medicines like aspirin can help reduce chest pains and can help reduce any inflammation or swelling caused by asbestosis
- Supplemental oxygen: Designed to help sufferers breath and get more oxygen into the lungs, supplemental oxygen can be prescribed
- Antibiotics: If a medical professional recommends surgery to ease the symptoms of asbestosis, antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection and ease pain after the procedure
- Gauifenesin: This, and other medications designed to thin secretions, can help open up airways, making it easier to cough
In some severe cases, asbestosis may result in surgery. Asbestosis surgery is usually focused on relieving symptoms and easing the pain caused by the condition. The most common type of surgery to relieve the symptoms of asbestosis is thoracentesis, which drains excess liquid from the lungs.
Aside from thoracentesis, a surgeon may recommend diagnostic surgery, which is used in rare cases where asbestosis cannot be diagnosed through the use of X-rays and CT scans. Diagnostic surgeries are usually recommended to rule out other lung conditions, such as mesothelioma, in cases of asbestosis.
As a last resort, a lung transplant may be recommended, however this is unlikely in cases of asbestosis and is only considered if other lung problems are present.
Some patients can find alternative treatments beneficial, with common alternative methods often quoted as helping relieving the symptoms of asbestosis:
- Herbal medicine
- Massage therapy
- Homeopathic medicine
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Living With Asbestosis
While asbestosis treatments are designed to help you live with the condition, certain lifestyle changes may also be required to manage the effects of the disease.
Learning to understand that asbestosis will limit your ability to perform certain tasks is a crucial first step and many sufferers have to find a way to go about their daily life in a way that reduces the likelihood of suffering a bout of breathlessness.
After being diagnosed with asbestosis, there are certain steps you can make yourself to improve your quality of life, namely:
- Maintaining nutrition: This can include some routine steps, such as eating a well-balanced diet that includes large amounts of fruit and vegetables, as well as drinking an adequate amount of water and limiting your salt intake
- Stopping smoking: Symptoms of asbestosis are likely to worsen if you smoke and smoking increases the risk of lung cancer in asbestosis sufferers
- Resting regularly: Due to your shortness of breath and an associate feeling of fatigue, getting enough rest can drastically improve the quality of life for those living with asbestosis. Ensuring you get enough sleep at night and taking regular breaks throughout the day can help battle fatigue and a shortness of breath
- Exercising within your limits: Some exercises can help airflow and improve breathing, however it is always important to exercise within your limits. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of exercise and education offered by the NHS to help sufferers of long-term lung conditions
- Preventing infections: Asbestosis can increase the likelihood or contracting infections, as such it is important for sufferers to take steps to decrease the likelihood of being exposed to infections; these steps include washing hands regularly and organising flu vaccinations when appropriate
- Being mindful of poor air: So-called 'poor' or 'bad' air can have a detrimental effect on those with a long-term lung condition, as such asbestosis sufferers are advised to stay inside if the pollen count is particularly high. Cold air can also cause harm to asbestosis sufferers, who should cover their mouths with a scarf in cold weather
The prognosis and outlook for asbestosis varies between each individual case, with the presence of other conditions significant in determining a patient's outlook.
If a patient is suffering from both mesothelioma and asbestosis, their prognosis is not positive, due to the terminal nature of mesothelioma. For those who are suffering from asbestosis exclusively, their chance of survival is a lot higher.
For those who are only suffering from asbestosis, their life expectancy may be shortened and there can be a significant strain on a person's health, but generally speaking symptoms worsen slowly over time, if at all.
Those diagnosed with asbestosis are more likely to die from related conditions or natural causes than from asbestosis itself.
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Asbestosis Compensation Claims
If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to make a compensation claim to mitigate the loss and damage caused by the condition.
Compensation for asbestosis can be claimed via:
- Industrial injuries disablement benefit (IIDB): If you developed asbestosis as a result of asbestos-exposure at work then you could be entitled to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). Depending on your circumstances, you could be entitled to up to £168 a week to help with daily costs that are caused by your asbestosis
- A civil claim for compensation through the courts: You may be able to claim compensation directly from the party that exposed you to asbestos, with many claims of this nature settled as soon as a source of asbestos exposure is discovered. The timeframe and steps required to make a civil claim depend entirely on your circumstances and asbestosis sufferers are encouraged to get in touch so that our team can help detail the claims process for your specific circumstances
- A claim for a lump sum payment through the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979: This act set out funds for compensation claims when an employer that caused the asbestos has ceased trading and a claim cannot be made against their insurance policy
There could be some limitations on when you can claim compensation for asbestosis and it is important that you do not miss out on a claim due to a time limitations. In most cases, you have 3 years after learning of your asbestosis diagnosis to make a claim.
Claiming for compensation for asbestosis can help fund treatments and put in place any additional equipment or requirements that could help you manage a deterioration of your quality of life. It can also help mitigate the effect of any lost earnings, especially if your asbestosis is prohibiting you from working.
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By contacting our team, you can rest assured that your case is in the hands of leading experts, whilst benefitting from the personalised, tailored support that we pride ourselves on at Simpson Millar.
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