What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic (long term) lung scarring fibrosis caused by prolonged exposure and inhalation of asbestos dust. Progressing slowly, in many instances the disease will present little or no symptoms and will often remain stable.

Shortage of breath – likely in initial stages to occur after physical activity but can become more of a constant problem

Persistent cough


Chest pain


Weight loss

Clubbed (swollen) finger tips in advanced cases


Blood in the sputum/mucus

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres over a prolonged period which become trapped inside the lungs and over time leads to inflammation and scarring. It is an incurable condition normally associated to exposure which could be described as moderate to heavy and typical in workers who have worked within industries such as, asbestos production, shipbuilding, construction, railways, heating & insulation, power stations, boiler workers and textile manufacturing.

It is important you discuss any health concerns with your GP at the earliest opportunity. Your GP will undertake a physical examination and discuss with you the basis of your concern and it is important you outline details of your earlier exposure to asbestos.

A number of diagnostic investigations can be carried out to confirm asbestosis which might include,

Chest x-ray

Asbestosis will normally be detected in the lower lung area and present itself as shadowing which can be further clarified by CT Scan. An x-ray might also confirm the existence of another asbestos related condition such as pleural plaques which is a benign scarring condition of the lungs caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres or asbestos related pleural thickening.

CT Scan (computerised tomography)

This is a painless process whereby a series of x-rays are taken to produce a 3D image.

Lung function tests (LFT)

Designed to measure the amount and rate of air you can breathe in and out and how well oxygen is delivered into the bloodstream. Routine lung function tests might include spirometry which involves blowing through a mouthpiece into a spirometer to measure how well you can inhale and exhale. You will be asked to use maximum effort in this test which could temporarily leave some people feeling tired and lightheaded. Your lung volumes can be measured using similar equipment to a spirometer located within in a small glass sided area during which time you will have a small clip on your nose and a member of staff be on hand talking to you. This test is quite painless. A gas transfer test involves measuring the amount of oxygen your lungs pass into the bloodstream and is undertaken using a mouthpiece through which you will be asked to fill your lungs with a harmless gas for a few seconds before exhaling.


This is a painless process whereby a series of x-rays are taken to produce a 3D image.

Lung biopsy

The existence of asbestos fibres in the lungs confirms asbestos exposure, but in itself is insufficient to enable a firm diagnosis of asbestosis and may indicate the existence of some other asbestos related lung condition, such as pleural plaques or pleural thickening. A biopsy of lung tissue, sometimes from a nodule or lesion, will distinguish asbestosis from other similar lung conditions such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) sometimes referred to as usual interstitial pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or silicosis.

A biopsy can also help to confirm the existence and type of any cancer.

One procedure involves insertion of a thin needle (needle aspiration) into the lung to recover sample cells for examination which is normally undertaken during a CT Scan and under local anaesthetic. A biopsy can also be obtained using a procedure known as a bronchoscopy which involves a doctor or trained nurse inserting a thin and flexible tube (fibre-optic broncoscope) through the mouth or nose to enable examination of the main airways. Performed under mild sedative and/or local anaesthetic it allows for examination and collection of biopsy specimens from the airway or lungs.

Asbestosis is incurable and any damage to the lungs is irreversible. However, a range of palliative options can be considered to reduce symptoms and help improve a quality of life;

Stop Smoking

Symptoms are likely to deteriorate and increase the risk of developing lung cancer if a smoker does not give up smoking after diagnosis of asbestosis or some other lung condition.

Oxygen therapy

In severe cases of asbestosis which involve a lack of oxygen in the blood it might be necessary using an oxygen concentrator to provide an oxygen-rich supply of air using a mask or small tube fed into the nostrils. It is possible to leave the home with the aid of a portable oxygen tank and mask. Smoking must be avoided during oxygen therapy on account the high concentration of oxygen is highly flammable.


A number of medications are available to reduce symptoms of breathlessness, coughing and chest pain some of which can be administered by inhaler to relax the airway and provide some pain relief.


Lungs damaged by asbestosis or some other asbestos related condition are more vulnerable to infection and it is recommended consideration be given to having an influenza (flu) vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccination which helps protect from the bacteria which leads to serious conditions such as pneumonia. Your GP will arrange for any vaccinations.

The development and severity of asbestosis is related to the degree and nature of asbestos dust exposure. Whilst recognised as an incurable condition steps can be taken to reduce symptoms and improve a quality of life which include not smoking, obtaining certain vaccinations from your GP (pneumococcal, pneumonia & flu), oxygen therapy and medicines designed to reduce breathlessness and coughing.  Pulmonary rehabilitation might also help in offering a programme of exercise and education.

Aside to medical treatments certain self-help treatments can be adopted which range from implementing a healthy diet plan with plenty of fruit and vegetable and drinking plenty of water. Rest and good sleep including short ‘daytime napping’ can help reduce the effects of tiredness associated to asbestosis and care should be taken to avoid bacteria and germs and other irritants such as aerosol’s, petrol fumes or cleaning agents which could cause a reaction in the lungs.

Asbestosis can deteriorate over time and impact upon life expectancy particularly in severe cases.  Generally the condition progresses slowly or not at all.  The existence of asbestosis increases the risk of developing other more serious and life threatening conditions such as pleural disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with asbestosis or I am under investigation for this or some other lung disease?

You should remain positive throughout any treatments or investigation and contact us without further delay so we might understand more about your situation which will help us to assess your eligibility to compensation and benefits.

Your solicitors can deal with your enquiry even if you were employed or exposed to asbestos in England, Ireland or Wales

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