Technology used in buildings has changed a lot throughout the decades. In the past, our ancestors might have been using any kind of materials that can be found to help build homes and public facilities. In the 1960s, asbestos was introduced for industrial purposes in Malaysia but later in the 1980s, non-governmental organisations have proposed the government to ban the use of asbestos in fear of the health issues raised. It is not only till 1999 that the government started to prohibit the use of asbestos for building public facilities such as schools, clinics and hospitals and in 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has asked all countries to prohibit the use of asbestos.
Long-term exposure to asbestos would cause a great risk for a person to develop asbestosis. Asbestosis would often cause a person to find a doctor as asbestosis can cause many distressing symptoms relating to lung damages. Asbestosis symptoms only develop around 20 to 30 years after a person has breathed in asbestos fibres in high levels. Unfortunately, when symptoms have emerged, a person typically has already possessed significant scars in the lung which led to the lung unable to expand healthily due to the stiffness caused by the scarring.
What actually cause asbestosis? In short, asbestosis is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres and dust in the air. These fibres and dust enter the tiny sacs inside the lungs (alveoli), irritate the lung tissues and end up scaring the lung tissues or a fibrosis. Some of the asbestos may even travel down the lymphatic system and onto the structure lining of the lungs called the pleura. Such response is the way of the human body response towards the asbestos as as asbestos does trigger the inflammation process in attempt to remove the asbestos since it is a toxic chemical.
Risks of people developing asbestosis are high in those working in direct work-related mining, processing and installation or removal of the asbestos products. Asbestos is a mineral that is high in resistance to heat and chemicals which is widely used in insulation materials, roofs, ceramic floors, cements, textiles and automotive products. Another group of people that is at risk for asbestos exposure is those working as electricians and painters. Lastly, those indirectly exposed to asbestos such as those using roads or facilities built with asbestos are also at risk for asbestosis although not as high as those working directly with asbestos materials.
Symptoms of asbestosis are caused by fibrosis of the lungs. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, wheezing sound, feeling pain or tightness in the chest or shoulder, extreme tiredness or fatigue and loss of appetite that resulted in weight loss. In much more severe cases, the fingertips may seem swollen or wider and rounder (finger clubbing) as a consequence from asbestosis that compromised delivery of oxygen and blood to the finger. Having finger clubbing does not directly mean a person is exposed to asbestos in a heavy amount but it is an indicator that the asbestosis developed is in more severe form.
If you think yourself or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos, getting medical advice would help to improve symptoms although there is no cure for asbestosis to reverse the damaged lungs. Common treatments used to support those with asbestosis are pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy to help manage the symptoms. Physicians may offer advanced treatment of lung transplantation if there is a need for surgery in severe conditions. Practising healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a well-balanced meal, staying active by regular exercise and avoiding insults to the lung such as smoking cessation and wearing face mask to minimise breathing pollutants in the air can help improve the lung function and ease the symptoms.