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Why is Asbestos so dangerous?

Why is Asbestos so dangerous?

Posted on Thursday 26th May 2016 by Graham

It is common knowledge that asbestos is a dangerous material, but do not exactly why this substance can be so deadly? A substance that kills around 5,000 workers, in the UK, each year and approximately 20 tradesman die each week as a result of past exposure. (Source: Health & Safety Executive)

So what does make asbestos so dangerous?

Basically it is the minuscule size of the individual asbestos fibres, these are far too tiny to be seen by you or me with the naked eye. Normally between just 3 and 20 micrometres in width put in to context, compare that to a human hair which is normally between 17 and 181 micrometres thick.

When asbestos is disturbed, these fibres break up and filter in to the air. These particles can be inhaled into the lungs and can be responsible for serious illness and potentially deadly diseases.

Asbestos can cause the following diseases:

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining, or tissue, covering the lungs or abdomen. This is a deadly disease and is attributed to the exposure to asbestos and the reason it is often fatal is due to the period of time taken for symptoms to be discovered.

It is estimated that more than 2,600 people are diagnosed with Mesothelioma each year in the UK. The majority of cases are diagnosed in those aged between 60 and 80 years old. Research has found that men are affected more than women and unfortunately it very rare to cure the condition, although treatment can help control the symptoms.

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the lungs:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • High temperature (fever) and sweating, particularly at night
  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Swollen fingertips

Symptoms of mesothelioma in the lining of the stomach:

  • Stomach pain or swelling
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhoea or constipation

Asbestosis

A scarring condition which is caused by breathing in asbestos particles from exposure to asbestos over a sustained period of time and is a long-term lung condition.

Asbestosis is a serious condition which scars the lungs, causing shortness of breath. Unfortunately this condition can be fatal in the most serious of cases.

Symptoms of Asbestosis:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen fingertips

Asbestos-related lung cancer

A rare type of lung cancer (estimated to be around 1 lung cancer of every mesothelioma fatality).

The condition bears many similarities to cancer of the lungs caused by smoking. Similarly to mesothelioma, lung cancer related to asbestos exposure is usually diagnosed late on in development, due to the slow onset of the symptoms.

Symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A worsening cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood

Other symptoms of lung cancer can include

  • Frequent lung infections
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Unexplained weight loss

Pleural plaque/thickening

Another condition which is caused by sustained exposure to asbestos. The lining surrounding the lungs thickens, swells and hardens, placing pressure on the lungs themselves. This can lead to shortness of breath and severe chest pains.

Symptoms of pleural plaque:

Usually you will have no symptoms and you can live with them without having any long-term problems to your health. People can usually live with them for many years without even knowing they have them.

However, if you do have symptoms in your chest such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Bad cough
  • Chest pain

it is essential not to just assume that these are caused by the plaques and to ignore the symptoms. It is likely that the symptoms are more than likely to be caused by another condition that might need medical attention sooner rather than later.

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