When people breath in asbestos related dust, the fibers can lodge in the alveoli, the small air sacs that absorb oxygen and filter out toxins from the air you breath.
One of the lungs’ functions is to break down and expel invaders from your body. The body reacts to the invasion of asbestos fibers by sending white blood cells to destroy them. Because asbestos can’t be broken down chemically, the white blood cells are ineffective and the body relies on its last defense – it creates other cells to surround and neutralize the asbestos fibers.
These cells, called fibroblasts, are made up of scar tissue. Over time, scar tissue builds up in the lungs, impairing regular lung function. Asbestosis is the name given to this scarring of the lungs.
The symptoms of asbestosis may not appear for ten to fifty years. The first symptoms are usually a dry cough and shortness of breath. As the disease progresses the victim may experience chest pain and tightness, fitful sleep, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. At first, the shortness of breath occurs only during exercise. Later, it can be present even at rest. The symptoms of advanced asbestosis include pronounced clubbing of the fingers.
Asbestosis is progressive and incurable. People with asbestosis are at greater risk of developing mesothelioma and lung cancer.