Navy Veterans at High Risk of Developing Asbestosis

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World War has II led to a boom in the shipbuilding industry. Asbestos was used on Navy ships as a thermal insulating material, first in the form of asbestos mats, then later in the form of sprayed-on asbestos. The long asbestos fibers were woven into mats up to fifty centimeters thick that could easily resist to high temperatures, flames, and corrosive substances. The mats insulated the steam heating pipes. Within a few decades, the material had become the unrivaled insulating material everywhere.

The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos don't usually appear until 10 to 40 years after initial exposure. Most people who are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease were exposed many years ago before the Navy stopped using asbestos products in shipbuilding.

Asbestosis Is a Progressive Disease, Even After Asbestos Exposure Has Ceased

Asbestosis - a type of pulmonary fibrosis exclusively caused by inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers, is a chronic and progressive respiratory disease marked by scarring in the lungs. Because of the increasing presence of scar tissue, the lungs become unable to properly transport oxygen into the bloodstream. When the blood does not get enough oxygen, symptoms result including shallow breathing, shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, chest tightness or pain, and fatigue. In clinically advanced cases of asbestosis the outcome is respiratory failure, and/or heart failure, secondary to the restrictive lung disease, causing bluish discoloration of the skin, lips and fingernails due to low oxygen levels in the blood, severe shortness of breath and swollen feet and abdomen.

Because the disease progressively worsens with time and severe cases can place a significant strain on a person's health and shorten their life expectancy, we highly recommend seeking medical advice as soon as possible if you have symptoms like coughing, feeling short of breath or chest pain and you have a history of asbestos exposure.

Your doctor will perform a clinical examination of your respiratory system. In particular, he/she will listen carefully to your lungs to determine if they make a crackling sound caused by the stiff and fibrotic airways popping open at the end of inspiration. As part of your evaluation, your doctor will discuss your health history, occupations and exposure risk to asbestos.

If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos over long or even short periods of time in the past, it is essential to get yourself examined and screened as soon as possible. Through occupational health centers, imaging centers, patients with a history of asbestos exposure have access to a B-Reader. A B-reader is a physician certified to read the chest X-ray according to certain procedures to determine if it shows changes that may indicate exposure and disease caused by inhalation of noxious airborne particles like asbestos.

A variety of other tests might be needed to help pinpoint the diagnosis:

  • Bronchoscopy
  • Thoracentesis
  • Lung function tests
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

Relieving Symptoms and Slowing Down the Progression of the Disease

As the disease progresses, the decrease in the pulmonary function severely aggravates the quality of life. Patients diagnosed with asbestosis frequently need to be hospitalized for respiratory problems and eventually subacute deterioration. The predictors of survival and overall prognosis differ from person to person depending on their age, physical features, the severity of the disease when diagnosed, and other comorbidities.

Asbestosis is an irreversible condition, so there's no treatment to reverse the effects of asbestos on the alveoli. Treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease, reduction of inflammation, relieving symptoms, increasing pulmonary function, and preventing complications.

Common medications doctors may recommend to help with breathing and the discomfort that comes with asbestosis include:

  • Bronchodilators to improve airflow and reduce symptoms such as shortness of breath
  • Medication to thin secretions to make coughing easier and relieve chest tightness
  • Inhaled corticosteroids to inhibit the inflammatory process
  • Medication to reduce chest pain

If your breathlessness limits your activity, pulmonary rehabilitation might help. Oxygen therapy can also help if you have low levels of oxygen in your blood. Sometimes medications used for asthma are prescribed to patients with breathing problems caused by asbestosis. They may be of some benefit depending solely upon the individual's response.

Asbestosis patients run an increased risk of respiratory infections, so they may be treated with antibiotics for other respiratory ailments. In some patients, treatments such as chest percussion or postural drainage may also be recommended to relieve symptoms of chest congestion, tightness and difficulty breathing.

Some patients also find relief through alternative medical treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, or homeopathy. None of these alternative treatments offer a cure for asbestosis, but they can greatly reduce symptoms and offer comfort to patients.

If a patient's symptoms are so severe that medications don't work, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove scar tissue.

Have You Been Exposed to Asbestos on a US Navy Ship?

Due to the accumulating damage caused by asbestos fibers, asbestosis is a slowly progressive disease. While some patients remain in stable condition for years, others may experience rapidly-worsening symptoms and overall health. Patients suffering from this disease are advised to undergo pulmonary rehabilitation where they will learn all about the disease, the treatments available, breathing techniques, and be placed on an exercise program. While the life expectancy for asbestosis is approximately 5 years, early detection and benefiting from effective treatment, as well as operating a series of lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and adopting a healthier diet, can prolong survival to a great extent.

If you believe you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military and developed asbestosis as a result, financial compensation may be available to you. This compensation can help pay for treatment and secure the financial future of their family. If you are one of the many people who have developed asbestosis after service in the military, we can put you in touch with some of the best legal experts who can handle your claim for financial compensation. Contact us at any time for more information: 760.621.6147.

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