Exposure to workplace irritants can lead to a vast array of diseases. These diseases may last only as long as the exposure continues or may be chronic conditions that last a lifetime. Certain lung and respiratory illnesses that are caused by occupational exposure to chemicals, dangerous fibers or other substances can cause fatal diseases that currently have no known cure.
Many occupations hold greater risks for exposure due to the location, surrounding environment or nature of the required tasks. It was previously thought that only individuals such as coal miners were exposed to irritants that cause lung disease. This is no longer considered valid as individuals in other industries have been diagnosed with similar illnesses.
Several of the most well know lung diseases associated with occupational exposure are asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. These diseases were once very rare but have increased as the population of those who were exposed to asbestos on the job ages. Adult onset asthma is also on the rise and many researchers believe this is due to workplace irritants. Other lung and respiratory illnesses have increased in frequency due to the latency period of the disease.
The aging population that is now becoming ill from past workplace exposures is providing valuable information on other dangerous substances.
Asbestosis is a chronic condition of the lung. This disease develops slowly and often causes suffers to experience shortness of breath and chest pain. Many individuals can no longer live an ordinary life as the tolerance for physical activity decreases. Asbestosis is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. These fibers, which lodge into the lining of the lungs cause scarring. This scar tissue prevents the lung from properly inflating causing difficulty breathing. When the exposure to asbestos ends the disease does not progress further. Not every person that is exposed to asbestos gets asbestosis. Researchers believe genetics may play a role. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis and the disease progresses slowly. The occurrence of this disease is difficult to ascertain however, the American Academy of Family Physicians sites 20,000 hospital discharges with this diagnosis in the year 2000.