Asbestosis: An Education in Breathing
Continued from: Asbestosis Overview
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes a significant reduction in total lung capacity (TLC). As such, asbestosis sufferers often experience a great deal of difficulty in breathing. Although asbestosis is a non-malignant asbestos disease and is therefore not directly fatal, it can potentially impact TLC to such an extent that it fosters the development of congestive heart failure and death.
Kaiser Permanente offers a new type of treatment for a variety of pulmonary-related diseases through which patients are educated in breathing efficiently. Described as a pulmonary rehabilitation program, Kaiser's educational therapy spans a six-week period during which patients partake in basic exercise programs, learn about appropriate nutrition based on their condition, learn about how to breathe efficiently and receive medication designed to aid in the treatment of their particular pulmonary-related disease.
One such patient decided to enroll in Kaiser's pulmonary rehabilitation program in effort to find relief from the symptoms associated with his development of asbestosis. Having spent more than 35 years working aboard a number of steamships throughout his time in the United States Navy and the Merchant Marines, the 83-year-old Stockton, California, area resident found himself routinely exposed to asbestos and asbestos-laden materials prior to regulation of the mineral in the early 1970s.
Having been exposed to asbestos fibers for such a long period of time, the man already faced significant risk of developing an asbestos disease; this risk was further compounded by the fact that he had been a heavy smoker since the age of 17 because cigarettes were cheap and plentiful during World War II. Studies have shown that cigarette smokers who are exposed to asbestos face a significantly higher risk of developing an asbestos disease than non-smokers. Similar studies have also yielded data suggesting that asbestosis sufferers who smoke are at risk of developing deadly asbestos diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer or asbestos cancer of the larynx.
Asbestos is a relatively indestructible material that can remain in the body throughout a person's life. In this case, asbestos fibers became lodged in the man's lungs, causing severe scarring that limited his lung capacity and began to elicit a number of symptoms associated with asbestosis. He had a great deal of difficulty breathing and significant chest pain caused by a buildup of fluid inside the lungs. Things got so bad that he was forced to undergo routine palliative treatments in the form of oxygen therapy. Hooked up to an oxygen tank, the man's lungs needed assistance from an artificial breathing device.
As a graduate of Kaiser's rehabilitation program, the man has been able to learn a new breathing technique that has allowed him to increase his lung capacity and lessen his need for oxygen treatments. It has greatly benefited his day-to-day life as he is now able to be more active without worrying about the debilitating effects that such activities may have on his chronic lung disease.
[Page updated August 2009]