Pleural disease is a condition caused by extensive exposure to asbestos over a long period of time. The most frequent cases occur in workers of the milling, mining, steel, electrical, plumbing, and other asbestos manufacturing industries. Damage due to asbestos exposure does not develop until 10 to 30 years after the initial exposure. For this reason, people who have been exposed to high levels of asbestos should have regular X-rays and CT scans to monitor the condition of their lungs.
There are various stages of pleural disease. When the loose asbestos fibers are inhaled, they permanently adhere themselves to the lining of the lung and chest cavity, called the pleura. This causes scarring. Pleural thickening on the chest wall causes shortness of breath and over time can expand to block the lungs, making it even more difficult to breath. When the scarring is more centralized, the scars are called pleural plaques. As the scars grow and harden, breathing becomes increasingly difficult. In the rarest of cases, the scarring causes atelectasis, where a part of the lung folds over and results in severe pain and discomfort.
The effects of asbestos-related pleural disease are permanent and incurable. The condition will only continue to get worse. Treatments include bronchodilators, bronchial drainage, chest percussions and the use of humidifiers; all of these can ease the symptoms and make the patient more comfortable. While this type of pleural disease is not malignant, the patient becomes more susceptible to more serious lung diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.