Diagnosis

Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are similar to those of many other types of respiratory diseases. A variety of diagnostic tests might be needed to help pinpoint the diagnosis.

Imaging tests

  • Chest X-ray. Advanced asbestosis appears as excessive whiteness in your lung tissue. If the asbestosis is severe, the tissue in both lungs might be affected, giving them a honeycomb appearance.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). CT scans combine a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. These scans generally provide greater detail and might help detect asbestosis in its early stages, even before it shows up on a chest X-ray.

Pulmonary function tests

These tests determine how well your lungs are functioning. Pulmonary function tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs.

During the test, you might be asked to blow as hard as you can into an air-measurement device called a spirometer. More-complete pulmonary function tests can measure the amount of oxygen being transferred to your bloodstream.

Treatment

There's no treatment to reverse the effects of asbestos on the alveoli. Treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease and relieving symptoms.

You'll need routine follow-up care, such as chest X-rays and lung function tests, at regular intervals depending on the severity of your condition.

Therapy

To ease breathing difficulty caused by advanced asbestosis, your doctor might prescribe supplemental oxygen. This is delivered by thin plastic tubing with prongs that fit into your nostrils or a mask.

Surgery

If your symptoms are severe, you might be a candidate for a lung transplant.

Lifestyle and home remedies

  • Stop smoking. Asbestosis increases the risk of lung cancer. Quitting smoking can reduce this risk. Try to avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking might also cause emphysema, which further reduces your lung reserves.
  • Get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about flu and pneumonia vaccines, which can help lower your risk of lung infections. Promptly treat respiratory infections.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor for the disorder's most common symptom — shortness of breath. He or she might refer you to a doctor specializing in lung problems (pulmonologist).

What you can do

Before your appointment, you might want to write a list of answers to the following questions:

  • What are your symptoms and when did they start?
  • Have your symptoms stayed the same or gotten worse?
  • What kind of work have you done in your career? Be specific.
  • Have you been involved in any home-remodeling projects or other building renovations occurring over a long period of time?
  • Do you or did you smoke? If so, how much?
  • What medications and supplements do you take?

If you have had chest X-rays in the past, you might want to bring along copies of the images so your doctor can compare them to your current imaging tests.

What to expect from your doctor

During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen carefully to your lungs to determine if you make a crackling sound while inhaling.