It's no mystery that the human body changes as we age. However, some of those changes might make it more difficult to distinguish between certain conditions and the actual process of getting older. For example, shortness of breath is a very common symptom, particularly among the elderly. But its causes are many and include prolonged asbestos exposure. Scarring in the lungs as a result of the lodged asbestos fibers in the tissue will eventually reduce lung function, which is a contributory factor in breathing problems and tiredness during exercise.
Asbestos Is Responsible for Causing Incurable Lung Diseases That Makes Breathing Progressively More Difficult
According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, 2018, there are more than 25 million American veterans alive today, with the largest group of veterans between the ages of 65 and 74, all of whom may have been exposed to asbestos during their service.
Because of its affordability, tensile strength, and heat and chemical damage resistance, asbestos was an ideal material for multiple uses in the shipbuilding industry: insulating boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. Consequently, Navy veterans employed in various areas of ships and in shipyards were among the most frequently exposed to asbestos in their everyday line of work.
One of the most significant factors in the high fatality rate of asbestos-related diseases is that they have a latency period of 10 to 40 years. This means that by the time the disease can be properly diagnosed, it often reaches an advanced stage that makes it difficult to treat.
Early Signs of Asbestos Exposure Affecting the Lungs
- Shortness of breath - If you have inhaled asbestos fibers, they can cause scar tissue to form in your lungs, making breathing difficult. Shortness of breath is often one of the very first symptoms that indicate signs of an asbestos-associated illness. If you have past asbestos exposure and develop shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Wheezing - Wheezing is caused when there is inflammation present in the lungs making a person's breathing sound like whistling or squeaking. Exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to inflammation in the lungs, causing wheezing. If you are a U.S. Navy veteran, wheezing can be a cause for concern and may indicate that you had enough exposure to be at risk of asbestos-related diseases.
- Persistent cough - As the effects of asbestos can remain undetectable for many years after exposure, a persistent cough can be an indication of a lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. Even 40 years after the initial asbestos exposure, patients can develop a persistent cough due to scar tissue forming in the lungs over time.
- Swelling of the face and neck - Trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring, and genetic damage, leading to cancer. Lung cancer can cause swelling in the face and neck when a tumor presses on the vein that goes from the head to the heart.
- Finger clubbing - When the fingertips appear wider and rounder than normal, is a common symptom of asbestosis - a chronic disease that develops when asbestos fibers cause scarring in your lungs.
- Fatigue - Increased fatigue or weakness combined with other symptoms such as shortness of breath and swollen fingertips can be an indication of an asbestos-related illness, such as asbestosis or lung cancer.
- Weight loss - Inflammation is part of your body's immune response to a tumor, which produces pro-inflammatory cytokines and alters the body's metabolism. This disrupts the hormones that regulate your appetite, causing a loss of appetite and weight loss, which is another symptom of most asbestos-related diseases.
In Healthy People, Typical Age-Related Lung Changes Seldom Lead to Actual Symptoms
Your respiratory system ages as you do, and lung function gradually declines over time. Your lungs may become stiffer, causing them to expand and contract less easily. You might notice a weakened endurance for prolonged exertion or a decreased ability to do intense exercises such as running or biking. However, even as you age, you should be able to carry out daily activities without much trouble.
In healthy people, these typical age-related lung changes seldom lead to actual symptoms, although they may notice a lesser ability to participate in intense aerobic exercises.
Age-related changes in the lungs compound the effects of lung diseases, especially those caused by the destructive effects of inhaling asbestos particles. Prolonged exposure to these fibers can cause lung tissue to become thick and stiff and eventually form scar tissue within the lungs.
It's important to see your doctor if you begin experiencing the following symptoms:
- Sudden, severe trouble catching your breath
- Increased shortness of breath during activity
- Changes in breathing during sleep
- Sudden chest pain
- Coughing that brings up blood
- Swallowing problems
The lungs become stiffer as scarring continues, which is why it's critical to get treatment as soon as possible. It is essential to accurately diagnose an asbestos-related disease to offer appropriate treatment as soon as possible. This is particularly true for the Navy veterans, whose difficulty breathing may be attributed to the extensive use of asbestos in all naval ships manufactured before 1980.
Only a doctor can make an asbestos-related lung diagnosis based on:
- Medical history, including asbestos exposure work history
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Chest X-rays
- Computed tomography scans
- Pleural fluid analysis
- Tissue sampling (biopsy)
Importantly, the above-mentioned symptoms aren't a natural part of the aging process. This happens because the scarring from the lodged asbestos fibers gradually worsens, preventing the lung's capacity to do its most important function - deliver oxygen and pump carbon dioxide out. This is what eventually causes symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath during physical exertion, and other lung irritations. For more information on help filing claims after an asbestos-related cancer diagnosis, call us at 760.621.6147.