The term asbestos can refer to any of the six naturally occurring asbestos minerals that are found around the world. Although the minerals can be released into the air naturally, people are exposed most often through industrial processes. Use of the material has been banned in most countries, but it can still be legally used in clothing, floor tiles, cement pipes, and other industrial items throughout Chicago and the greater U.S., so the potential for serious injury is still high.
All types of asbestos are fibrous and crystalline in structure. Exposure occurs through the air. The fibers are inhaled and then become trapped in the lungs where they can stay for life. The following factors determine how exposure to asbestos affects the human body:
- The type, chemical makeup, shape and size of the individual asbestos fibers
- The concentration of asbestos fibers in the area
- How often during a set period of time a person is exposed to the fibers
- How long the exposure to the fibers lasted
After periods of repeated exposure or short periods of exposure to high concentrations of fibers, patients can become ill with many life-altering diseases.
Medical conditions associated with asbestos
Asbestos exposure can lead to asbestosis, a progressive, long-term disease that affects the lungs. It is caused when people inhale asbestos fibers that then inflame and irritate the tissues of the lungs, leading to scarring. These scars make it difficult for the lungs to fully expand and contract, thus restricting the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that are exchanged. It usually takes 10-20 years from the time of first exposure until symptoms of asbestosis appear, and the disease can cause no symptoms or can cause such severe symptoms that patients die.
The space between the two membranes that line the chest cavity and the outside of the lungs, or the pleural cavity, can develop unusual structures known as pleural abnormalities. These form most often when people spend large periods of time exposed to asbestos. The abnormalities include growths, thickening of the membrane, hardening of the membrane, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer of the pleural cavity, the lining of the abdominal cavity, the tissue surrounding the heart, or in the sac that surrounds the testicles.
Asbestos has also been scientifically proven to cause lung cancer. This type of cancer is a malignant tumor that grows within lung tissue, obstructing the lung’s air passages and leading to symptoms like wheezing, coughing, unexplained weight loss, labored breathing, and coughing up blood. Those who smoke and have a history of exposure to asbestos have an increased chance of developing lung cancer.
The cost of medically treating one person for mesothelioma can cripple a family’s finances. Patients who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease should contact an attorney immediately to begin the process of seeking compensation for their injuries.