Navy Veterans Exposed to Asbestos Have Higher Rates of Interstitial Lung Disease


Interstitial lung disease is a term that broadly describes a large group of conditions, most of which cause damage to the tissues of the lungs.

The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease affects breathing capacity, limiting the oxygen getting into the bloodstream.

Interstitial lung disease has symptoms that range from subtle such as a persistent cough, to inflammatory such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and progressive scarring of lung tissue. Other symptoms and conditions that may occur include malignant disorders such as lung cancer. It's important to see a doctor at the first signs of breathing problems.

Some types of interstitial lung disease include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Interstitial pneumonia
  • Desquamative interstitial pneumonitis
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Acute interstitial pneumonitis
  • Nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Interstitial Lung Disease Caused by Asbestos Exposure May Occur When Someone Inhales Microscopic Asbestos Fibers

Interstitial lung disease can be triggered by many different factors, including long-term exposure to toxins like asbestos. Once they are inhaled, asbestos fibers cannot be eliminated and are therefore traceable in the human lungs for many years after exposure cessation. Fibrous minerals like asbestos are composed of thin, needle-like fibers that cause ongoing inflammatory reactions followed by more diffuse pulmonary involvement.

The process that leads to interstitial lung disease begins when the tissue of the lungs becomes scarred and thickened, and the walls of the air sacs inflamed. This causes the lungs to become stiff and prevents them from properly transporting oxygen. The level of injury associated with interstitial lung disease depends on the amount of scarring.

The scar tissue that forms as a result of asbestos exposure depends on the following factors:

  • The duration of exposure to asbestos
  • Types and sizes of asbestos fibers
  • Amount and concentration of asbestos
  • Other risk factors, such as smoking or a history of chronic lung diseases

Since asbestos is almost indestructible, highly resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, and does not conduct electricity, various types of this material have been included on virtually every ship built by the Navy and used between World War II and the late 1970s. As a result, Navy service members had a higher risk of asbestos exposure than other branches of the military.

Interstitial Lung Disease Is Progressive, so Symptoms of the Disease Grow Worse Over Time

Interstitial lung disease caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers affects the tissue and space around the air sacs in the lungs, causing scarring. The accumulating scar tissue can become so thick that the lungs may become severely impaired and no longer properly expand when trying to inhale.

Most people with interstitial lung disease have symptoms that make breathing difficult. Other symptoms include:

  • Intense tightening in the chest with a feeling of suffocation
  • Decreased ability to perform physical exercise
  • Hoarseness - because people with interstitial lung disease can't hold much air in their lungs, they could experience changes in their voice
  • Fatigue - the reduced airflow into the lungs makes breathing difficult and labored; fatigue comes when the lungs can't properly inhale and exhale the air
  • Unexpected weight loss - patients with damaged lungs can burn about ten times more calories than people with healthy lungs because their muscles need to work harder to keep up with the body's demands

Navy veterans who were heavily exposed to asbestos during military service are encouraged to follow up periodically with their treating physicians to monitor symptoms such as shortness of breath and cough and to determine the need for further diagnostic testing of their lungs for early detection of asbestos-related diseases.

The following tests may be done:

  • Blood tests
  • Bronchoscopy with or without biopsy
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • 6-minute walk test - an exercise test used to monitor all the systems involved during exercise, including the pulmonary system
  • Chest X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

The general criteria for the diagnosis of asbestos-related interstitial lung disease are:

  • A history of exposure to asbestos, documented by occupational history
  • Asbestos-related pathological changes documented by radiologic features and/or histology
  • Exclusion of alternative causes for the medical findings

You May Be Eligible for Compensation or Financial Assistance If You Are Diagnosed With a Malignant Lung Disease Caused by Asbestos

Asbestos was found in nearly every part of each ship, from bow to stern, putting personnel at an increased risk for health concerns. Navy veterans diagnosed with interstitial lung disease as a result of service-related asbestos exposure should ask for a second opinion from a pulmonary specialist outside the VA, seeing that non-cancerous asbestos diseases have the potential to turn into cancer. Service members diagnosed with malignant illnesses stemming from asbestos exposure may seek compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency of the federal government offers several compensation options, and one of them is disability compensation for cancers related to asbestos exposure during military service. To qualify for financial benefits, veterans must prove that their cancerous disease is related to asbestos exposure and that it occurred during active duty. We can help by putting you in touch with attorneys experienced in proving service connections and successfully filing claims.

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