Diagnosis of asbestosis first requires that the patient gives their doctor a full medical history, including details of any known asbestos exposure. If previously exposed, this information is crucial to ensure a proper diagnosis.
What’s the problem?
To help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis of asbestosis, provide him or her with a detailed history of your work activities and any other sources of possible exposure to toxic dusts. Tell your doctor about the availability of dust masks and other respiratory-protection devices in your workplace. Your doctor may also ask if you know of any fellow employees who have been diagnosed with a condition caused by exposure to asbestos.
A physician may test for asbestosis by using a stethoscope to listen for basal crackles or persistent high–pitched sounds that are characteristic of the disease. An x–ray may show small irregular opaque areas, usually in the lower lobes of the lungs. Pleural plaques indicative of asbestos pleural lung disease may also show up in an x–ray. However, x–rays are limited in detecting early asbestos disease, sometime yielding false positives for smokers as well as false negatives.
A computed tomography or CT scan may be more useful in indicating asbestosis and asbestos–related pleural disease than the chest x–ray, particularly in those cases in which the chest x–ray is ambiguous or in asbestos–exposed patients who have normal chest x–rays. A CT scan is a radiographic technique that uses a computer to combine multiple x–ray images into a two dimensional cross–sectional x–ray image.
Additionally, individuals who are suspected to have asbestosis will often undergo a pulmonary function test. This test determines how well the lungs are functioning. It is also designed to test the capacity of the lungs and determine how well air flow is going in and out. The most common way of measuring these functions is by blowing into an instrument called a spirometer.
Once diagnosis of asbestosis has been confirmed, the next step is determining treatment options. This will depend on how advanced the asbestosis has progressed. If the condition is caught early enough, treatments can be quite effective, as long as exposure to asbestos is stopped. However, it is important to note that there are no treatments that can reverse the lung damage caused by asbestos exposure. Treatments for this condition only relieve symptoms, although surgery may be an option in some cases.