Asbestosis takes a long time to develop. The earliest symptoms usually show up 10-40 years after first exposure. The disease can develop even when exposure to asbestos ended years before. The severity of the disease depends on the amount and length of time of exposure to asbestos. Symptoms get worse as the disease progresses and may include:
- Shortness of breath—this is the first noticeable symptom and occurs with exercise or heavy effort
- Cough—the cough is persistent and nonproductive (which means no mucus is produced)
Other symptoms may include:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Feeling generally unwell
- Loss of appetite
- Finger clubbing, in some cases, caused by a build-up of fluid
- Weight loss
The diagnosis is made based on:
- Reliable history of exposure to asbestos
- Evidence of lung scarring and fibrosis which is based on a physical exam and/or additional tests
- Absence of other causes that may produce similar clinical pictures
Tests used in diagnosis of asbestosis:
- Chest X-ray—changes seen on the exam usually have a distinctive pattern
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body. A high resolution CT is more sensitive that a plain x-ray in detecting abnormalities in individuals who were exposed to asbestos.
- Pulmonary function test—a test that measures how well the lungs take in and exhale air. The test can show if the lungs have reduced ability to function properly.
- Oximetry is a noninvasive means to assess oxygen status.