Asbestos is a fibrous natural material once widely used for insulation and fireproofing due to its heat-resistant qualities. Only after it had been common in myriad industrial applications for decades were the dangers associated with its use discovered. Even after that point, however, it was still used in some industries (chief among them building construction, mining, ship building and automotive parts manufacturing) simply because no one had yet to develop a better method to achieve the same results asbestos offered.
The key issue with asbestos is the fact that its fibers can be inhaled; once that occurs, the fibers may become trapped inside lung tissue, eventually leading to such conditions as asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. Asbestosis is a non-cancerous irritation, inflammation and scarring of the lungs that causes respiratory distress including trouble breathing, chronic coughing and chest pain. Pleural mesothelioma shares many of the same symptoms as asbestosis, including damage to the lungs and chest cavity, but is in fact a form of cancer.
A difficult diagnosis
There isn’t a cure per se for either asbestosis or mesothelioma, but the symptoms of these invasive diseases can be managed if diagnosis and treatment are timely. That is much easier said than done, however. The main barrier to treating these conditions is the lengthy “latency” period before symptoms appear.
Both these illnesses can take years – or even decades – to develop following asbestos exposure. Someone suffering from respiratory symptoms like a chronic cough or chest pain might not even remember that they were exposed to asbestos years ago, which could lead their doctor to misdiagnose them with a much less serious condition (like a respiratory infection or asthma, for example), thus delaying treatment for the underlying issue. Once an accurate diagnosis is finally made, the disease could have progressed to the point where medical intervention isn’t effective.
Another issue that complicates prompt diagnosis and treatment of conditions like mesothelioma and asbestosis is that factors like different levels of asbestos exposure, gender of the patient and the location in the body where the asbestos fibers have embedded can all significantly impact the progression of the disease. For example, a coal miner who was exposed to low levels of asbestos for years on the job may see his condition progress slowly, literally taking decades before he is symptomatic enough to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. On the other hand, people exposed to massive levels of asbestos fibers for a relatively short time – like rescue workers at the World Trade Center site and those cleaning up following recent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina – have already died from the disease.
Notwithstanding the difficulties in getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment protocol in place, it is possible to live for years with asbestosis, mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer. Treatment for these conditions can be very expensive, however. If you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos, you have legal rights. Speak with an experienced attorney at the West Virginia law firm of Bailey, Javins & Carter, L.C. The firm has offices in Charleston, Logan and Summersville for your convenience; contact the firm.