As a North Carolina worker, you may inhale microscopic asbestos fibers on a daily basis without even realizing it. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in numerous industrial and consumer products. Its superior insulating properties and its resistance to fire and flame make it a favorite component of construction materials, but it also is in brake pads and other automotive and consumer products.
The problem with asbestos is that it deteriorates over time and also becomes easily disturbed by such things as saws, drills, sanders, screw drivers and other common tools. Unlike most minerals, when asbestos breaks down, it does not become normal dust that a dust mask will prevent you from inhaling. Instead, it turns into microscopic fibers that disperse over a wide area at the slightest air current. Once in your lungs and elsewhere in your body, these fibers build up over time, oftentimes resulting in mesothelioma, an incurable malignant cancer.
Workers at high risk
While you can unknowingly inhale and/or ingest asbestos fibers in most any kind of job, your risk is highest if you work as one of the following:
- Construction worker
- Stonemason or bricklayer
- Pipefitter or welder
- Auto mechanic, especially if you repair brakes
If you are a firefighter, you also are at high risk because the fires you fight often occur in older homes and buildings. Contractors used asbestos products extensively in their construction projects up through the 1970s when governmental laws and regulations substantially curtailed its use. Nevertheless, this mineral and its insidious microscopic fibers are still found in a wide variety of materials.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive deadly cancer that can occur almost anywhere in your body because the asbestos fibers attack the linings that cover most of your body’s internal organs. Resistant to surgical intervention, physicians can do no more than treat you with pain management and breathing assistance.
One of the most frightening aspects of mesothelioma is that its symptoms can be quite diverse and mimic other illnesses and conditions. Consequently, misdiagnosis is a real possibility. In addition, since the asbestos fibers build up in your body over time, receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis 20-40 years after initial exposure is not at all uncommon.
Any of the following symptoms can indicate the early stages of mesothelioma:
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough, sometimes including spitting up blood
- Painful breathing
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately. Be sure to tell him or her what type of work you do, how long you have done it, and that you suspect you may be exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. Steering your doctor in the right direction from the first sign of illness can result in a much earlier than usual mesothelioma diagnosis, which, in turn, can help your doctor manage and minimize your discomfort.