Unlike many asbestos-related conditions, asbestosis is not a form of cancer - though this is a trivial distinction to the thousands of people suffering from the affliction. Due to the prevalence of asbestos and asbestos-related products during the 20th century, many people now suffer from the long-term effects of asbestos exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates that if asbestos exposure cannot be eliminated, it must be limited to a level where it is presents no immediate danger. Unfortunately, an increase of asbestosis cases is one of the consequences of early asbestos proliferation.
Asbestosis is a complicated condition to understand. Inhalation of asbestos fibers causes a build-up of deposits on the miniscule air sacs that honeycomb the lungs. These air sacs, called alveoli, detect the foreign asbestos particle and activate their immune systems to try to remove it. These cells, called macrophages, attempt in vain to destroy the asbestos particle, and when they fail they create scar tissue on the alveoli, which diminishes the air to blood exchange necessary to breathe. Eventually enough scar tissue accumulates between the alveoli and the lung and causes total lung failure. Furthermore, the prevalence of scar tissue can inhibit blood flow to the heart which can lead to heart failure. Asbestosis is also bilateral, which means it affects both lungs simultaneously, an aspect of the condition that contributes to its high fatality rate. Instead of clear, deep breaths, victims experience shorter and shallower inhalation, which is said to resemble sound of Velcro being torn apart.
Asbestosis has a number of signs that are easily confused with other, less dangerous disease.