From Exposure to Diagnosis – A Deadly Delay

April 23, 2020  |  Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma Diagnosis

People frequently ask if exposure to the toxic mineral asbestos can kill you right away. It’s a good question. After all, people who unknowingly ingest something poisonous generally learn within a few minutes or hours that something is terribly wrong. But it’s different with exposure to the microscopic fibers of asbestos.

No Symptoms For Years

Unlike the immediate symptoms caused by exposure to hazardous substances such as hydrochloric acid, nuclear radiation or a poison like arsenic, asbestos can take decades to exert its deadly influence on the human body. The invisible fibers give no indication of their danger when inhaled, like other toxins might, by causing dizziness, headaches, nausea, burning eyes or mucus membrane irritation. No rash develops when the fibers land on the skin. Inhaling asbestos fibers doesn’t even make people sneeze.

That’s what makes asbestos fragments such insidious and lethal killers. Not only can you not see or feel your exposure to asbestos, symptoms of having inhaled or ingested the fibers do not present themselves for many years, sometimes not for decades.

A Deadly Secret

Throughout the mid-1900s, people who worked with or around asbestos didn’t know they were breathing in a lethal substance, yet the owners of corporations that manufactured asbestos products, who did know the dangers, kept quiet. Profits from asbestos product sales produced enormous revenue for asbestos manufacturers. The production of commercial building products, automobile parts and insulation, all made with asbestos, continued unabated well into the 1970s. Even though manufacturers had known for decades by then that breathing the fibers could be deadly, they kept it secret from their employees and the public.

How Asbestos Interacts with the Body

Sturdy, virtually indestructible asbestos fibers, once taken in through breath or swallowed, cannot easily be broken down, destroyed or removed by the body’s natural defenses. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, their needle-like points burrow deep into the linings of the lungs and other internal organs, where they can fester for years, and can eventually lead to deadly diseases such as the lethal asbestos cancer, malignant mesothelioma. While mesothelioma is a particularly cruel cancer, killing its victims an average of ten months after diagnosis, it is relatively rare. More common diseases can also be caused by exposure to asbestos, including asbestosis and cancers of the lung, larynx and colon.

A Lengthy Latency Period

A latency period is the length of time that elapses between a person’s exposure to a toxin and the development of disease caused by that toxin. Once asbestos fibers have penetrated the cell walls of the lung, they form what are known as “asbestos bodies”, a result of our immune system’s attempt to isolate the intruding fiber by coating it in a layer of iron-protein-mucopolysaccharides. This substance causes the fibers to appear under a microscope as golden-brown, dumbbell-shaped tubes. People who have worked with or around asbestos in the workplace can have more than a million asbestos fibers per gram in their lung tissue, each one being slowly covered with isolating proteins over many years as the body fights to protect itself.

The unfortunate result of all those asbestos bodies building up over time is that they eventually form broad patches of calcification in the lungs. Early thickening in the lungs’ pleural spaces can begin to occur within a year of exposure to asbestos. But there are no symptoms at that point. The buildup of pleural plaques is a very slow process, which is generally not detected and diagnosed until thirty to sixty years later, when calcification becomes significant enough to impair breathing or be seen on an X-ray.

Symptoms to Look Out For

Sometimes individuals are diagnosed with asbestos disease when they suffer an episode of pleural effusion many years after breathing asbestos fibers. Normally, just a few teaspoons of fluid reside in the pleural lining of the lung. But when an abnormal amount of fluid builds up, such as in response to inflammation from the scarring caused by the penetration of asbestos fibers, breathing becomes uncomfortable. Sometimes it isn’t until an asbestos-exposed worker sees a physician years later because his breathing has become painful or he is experiencing shortness of breath, that a diagnosis of asbestos disease is made.

The tragic reality is that until breathing becomes difficult and additional symptoms begin to occur as a result of insufficient oxygen reaching the heart and other vital organs, people don’t generally have any idea they have asbestos disease. By the time asbestos disease is discovered, especially in those who are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, patients are often in the late stages of disease progression, when options for treatment are limited.

If You Have Been Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

Because it can take thirty to sixty years for asbestos disease to produce noticeable symptoms, some men and women who were exposed to asbestos in the 1970s and 1980s have yet to be diagnosed. Currently, there is no cure for malignant mesothelioma and the disease can be very aggressive, with many patients not surviving more than a year after diagnosis.

Asbestos was put into millions of goods sold across the United States over the past one hundred years. Documenting how you were exposed to asbestos is a critical first step in determining whether you can file suit against the asbestos manufacturers who failed to warn you about its deadliness. It is important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Baron & Budd can help. Contact us online or call us at 855-280-7664 to learn more.

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