Everyone knows asbestos is a toxic material, but when it comes to the dangers and health risks, what does the general public really know?
When broken down, asbestos is 50-200 times thinner than human hair, it can float in the air for a long time undetected, not visible to the naked eye. This can be deadly as many Carpenters demolish sites containing the fibre, and when airborne, asbestos is extremely dangerous as inhalation is the main way it enters the body. However, if left undisturbed, it is not a great health risk.
The two major health concerns caused by the inhalation of asbestos are lung asbestosis and Mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a chronic fibrotic interstitial lung disease which is asbestos-induced and non-cancerous. It is the scarring of the lung from inhaling the asbestos fibres, that damages the lung tissue itself – not the airways, causing inflammation. When the fibres sit in the lungs, they damage the tissue and cause the lungs to be stiff therefore making it difficult to breathe. It can take years of breathlessness worsening, to detect the illness as when the disease progresses, lung capacity reduces. Whilst asbestosis is irreversible, there are treatments that slow progression and help patients live for many years to come. The medication needed is prescribed by a doctor and will also be assisted by inhalers and oxygen therapy. In very rare cases, surgery may be required, however this is only an option for those with severe scar tissue. Mesothelioma is cancer caused by asbestos. When inhaled, the fibres penetrate the lung causing cancer in the lining of the lung, or penetrating the bowel and stomach causing cancer in the lining of the abdomen. It is the most lethal of all asbestos diseases and is unfortunately the most prevalent,
with people having been diagnosed no later than 20 years after exposure. The current treatment to assist with the shortness of breath is a procedure where the surgeon obtains a biopsy and can then prevent fluid accumulating in the leural space by performing a pleurodesis to avoid re-accumulation of fluid.
Symptoms do not usually show for approximately 20 to 30 years. If you do experience symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, dry cough, appetite loss or enlarged fingertips, contact your doctor and seek professional assistance immediately. To ensure that you are not put in danger of any asbestos related illnesses, there are precautions you can take. Not disturbing the fibres is the first step, if you think that you are near contaminated material, do not touch it. Contact a qualified professional and have your dwelling assessed, before putting together an asbestos management plan with the licensed surveyor.