While coughing is a protective action that helps clear the lungs of foreign materials, irritants from our airways, or excessive secretions, it may be time to take note when the cough lingers. A new cough that doesn't go away or develops into a chronic cough can indicate a possible asbestos-related condition.
If you are among the nearly 38 million American adults who smoke cigarettes, then your cough may be due to chronic bronchitis, where cumulative lung damage prevents the body's normal ability to clear particles, the airways swell, and make excessive mucus which results in a cough. In a smoker, other symptoms that occur along with the cough, such as wheezing or hoarseness of the voice, problems swallowing, loss of appetite, and returning bronchitis or pneumonia, should raise a concern about a lung infection or even cancer.
Asbestos is most hazardous when it's friable, which means that fibers can easily be crumbled by a person's hand, therefore, releasing dangerous fibers into the air. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and even limited exposure can result in significant health problems, including:
- Increased respiratory symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and chronic cough
- Development or progression of chronic illnesses, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, tuberculosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and emphysema
- Immune-suppressive effects
- Damages in cells of the respiratory system
- Accelerated aging of the lungs
- A decrease in lung function
- Shortened life span
Even Decades After the Initial Exposure, Navy Veterans Can Develop a Persistent Cough Due to Scar Tissue Forming in the Lungs
The shipbuilding industry relied on asbestos-containing materials for all insulation requirements. For decades asbestos insulation was present throughout ships - for insulating steam pipes and fittings, fireproofing doors, and even for muffling sound between decks. It was difficult not to be exposed to asbestos insulation onboard Naval vessels.
Before 1980, asbestos was wrapped around the pipes all over the ships, even pipes that ran just inches above the beds in the personnel's sleeping quarters. As asbestos-containing materials deteriorate, they can release hazardous small fibers into the air. When asbestos dust is breathed in, the tiny particles lodge themselves within lung tissue causing gradual damage.
If You Have a History of Heavy Asbestos Exposure and a Cough That Persists for Three Weeks or More, You Need to Have It Checked Out
Early detection of asbestos-related diseases is critical and can positively influence a patient's survival by increasing treatment options and improving quality of life. An accurate diagnostic that distinguishes between common respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis, is critical for proper treatment planning.
If you are a veteran with a persistent cough or trouble breathing that affects your sleep or daily activities, make an appointment with a lung specialist. If the cough is accompanied by the following symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible:
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Voice hoarseness
- Coughing up blood
- Pain in your chest
- Swelling in the face or neck
- Repeated respiratory infections
- Unexplained weight loss
If your healthcare provider minimizes the importance of your cough, listen to your body and stand your ground, even if that means getting a second or even third opinion. This is the only way you will not be certain that your cough is not a symptom of something more serious.
If you have a history of being exposed to asbestos and have developed a cough, you need to talk to your doctor about all circumstances, duration, and intensity under which the exposure to asbestos occurred.
Doctors typically do tests in the following order to confirm an asbestos-related lung disease:
- Pulmonary function tests can determine whether an obstructive or restrictive disease is present and also can grade the extent or severity of the pulmonary disease
- A spirometry test can accurately measure the injury to your lungs
- A chronic cough may require a chest X-ray - Small irregular opaque areas, usually in the lower lobes of the lungs, and calcifications within the pleural plaque, which often accompany asbestos-related diseases, can easily be seen on X-rays
- Computed tomography or CT scan
Based on the patient's detailed exposure and physical exam, the doctor will decide if additional testing is needed.
We're Committed to Supporting Navy Veterans
Because symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually don't appear until many years after continued exposure, most people don't know they have an asbestos-related condition until they go to the doctor with pain in their lungs. A late diagnosis can place a significant strain on a person's health and shorten their life expectancy.
If you can prove that you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military and have developed asbestos-related cancer because of it, you may be able to receive compensation for issues such as current and future medical bills and pain and suffering.