Navy Veterans With Asbestos-Related Respiratory Diseases May Need Treatment With Supplemental Oxygen

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Asbestos is a known carcinogen that can cause a variety of health problems to those who have been exposed to it. Because the natural mineral was affordable, accessible and possesses insulation abilities and superior qualities such as tensile strength, resistance to heat and chemical damage, sound absorption, and incombustibility, it was used extensively in nearly every part of each Navy ship, from bow to stern, for a period of about thirty to forty years.

Service members of the U.S. Navy have historically been at higher risk to develop asbestos-related diseases as a result of asbestos exposure during active service.

One of the Health Effects of Long-Term Asbestos Exposure Is Hypoxemia - an Abnormally Low Level of Oxygen in the Blood

The inhaled asbestos fibers cause lung scarring and stiffness or decreased lung compliance, which prevents the patient from taking full, deep breaths. The stiffening of the lungs that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred causes the coughing, discomfort, and crackling sounds when breathing in or out, and it also results in low blood oxygen levels.

"I served onboard the USS Yellowstone (AD-27) from 1986 to 1989. Right now I have breathing issues and was told my oxygen level is low and it should be monitored. I am wheezing. I have had problems with my breathing since I left the military but I thought it was just allergies", said Vera W., a veteran exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy.

Complication from breathing in the asbestos dust may not show until decades after exposure. As a result, new cases will continue to surface because of routine asbestos exposure long ago. These diseases are generally caused by microscopic asbestos fibers that were inhaled or ingested in the past and got stuck in the lungs, causing the formation of scar tissue. When accumulating in human tissue through repeated exposure, these fibers can cause inflammation and cellular changes that can lead to cancer.

You may be prescribed oxygen therapy if you have been diagnosed with one, or a combination of more of the following asbestos-related conditions:

A Pulmonologist Might Recommend Oxygen Therapy to Help You With Breathing and Getting More Air Into the Lungs

Normally, your lungs absorb oxygen from the air you breathe and pass it into your bloodstream, but asbestos-related conditions such as those mentioned above can stop your lungs from expanding as much as it normally does when you take a breath, causing the oxygen in your blood to be reduced below normal level. In addition to difficulty breathing, you can experience chest pain, dizziness, confusion, rapid breathing, and rapid heartbeat.

When you are short of breath, you might feel like you can't get enough air into your lungs and you can't do it quickly enough. It may seem as though you're running short on oxygen and it may be more difficult to inhale and exhale. Sometimes you might be compelled to take a full breath before you've even finished the last exhale to relieve the frightening fear of asphyxiation.

Symptoms that appear with shortness of breath include:

  • A tight sensation in your chest
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiousness
  • Pain with inspiration
  • Wheezing
  • Heart palpitation

The scarring or fibrotic change within the lung tissue caused by the inhaled asbestos fibers prevents deep breathing, often hindering the amount of oxygen your body receives. Oxygen therapy, also known as supplemental oxygen, is a highly effective treatment used to increase the amount of oxygen in the body to normal levels. Although oxygen therapy may be common in a hospital setting, it can also be used at home to manage long-term respiratory conditions. Because there are several devices used to deliver oxygen at home, your health care provider will help you choose the equipment that works best for you.

There are several ways that supplemental oxygen may be supplied, including:

  • Nasal tubes - deliver 24 - 30% oxygen. This is the most common oxygen therapy approach; you will likely start with what's called a nasal cannula - a device that includes two small tubes that fit in your nostrils, and a long tube attached to an oxygen tank
  • Facemask - deliver 30 - 60% oxygen. Recommended for patients who need much more oxygen or have trouble using the nasal tubes
  • A tube inserted into the trachea - deliver up to 100% oxygen. This is called transtracheal oxygen therapy and it is used in the management of severe respiratory distress. A tube runs from the oxygen tank through a small hole in your neck and into your windpipe to feed oxygen directly into the lungs

Because it increases the amount of oxygen in a patient's body, oxygen therapy can help to:

  • Decrease breathlessness
  • Decreases fatigue
  • Improve mental alertness
  • Improve activity levels and mobility
  • Improve sleep quality

If a patient is getting oxygen therapy at the hospital, then healthcare providers are there to make sure that the right amount of oxygen is being delivered correctly. Patients who are starting oxygen therapy at home will have their equipment set up. They may learn more about the therapy at a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

File a Veteran Disability Claim to Pursue Compensation to Which You May Be Entitled

Veteran disability benefits are available for numerous respiratory conditions associated with asbestos exposure. Navy veterans who can establish that their asbestos-related health condition was due to exposure during their military service may be eligible to receive VA disability compensation benefits. The amount of benefits a former service member of the U.S. Navy receives will vary depending on the severity of his/her condition.

Questions about asbestos exposure? We can help!

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