The mining and use of asbestos, a set of naturally occurring minerals, has been part of human history for at least two thousand years.
Writing in the fourth volume of his Naturalis Historia, the first century A.D. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder stated, in reference to asbestos, "There has been invented also a kind of linen which is incombustible by flame."
Like modern users of asbestos, the ancient Greeks and Romans prized the material not only for its resistance to fire but for its insulating properties. However, a number of contemporary observers noticed that those who mined asbestos and wove the material into cloth suffered from respiratory maladies that were likely asbestosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, asbestosis is "a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged accumulation of these fibers in [one's] lungs can cause scarring of lung tissue and shortness of breath."
The use of asbestos continued throughout the ages with knights in medieval times using it as insulation for their armor.
Asbestos use greatly accelerated in the 19th century with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. This also marked the first widespread commercial use of the material, according to Stanford University's Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
However, with the increased use of asbestos, so too came the increased incidence of the diseases related to it, not least of all asbestosis.
Many people were exposed to the material while working in blue-collar industries, such as construction, shipbuilding and pipe-fitting. The U.S. government began to regulate asbestos during the 1970s but a great deal of damage had already been done.
The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases often times don't appear for decades after one is exposed to the substance, making cases of such illnesses difficult to diagnose.
Asbestosis affects the lungs by scarring them. Over time this damage causes the lungs to become stiff, making their expansion and contraction difficult, according to the Mayo Clinic.
People who may be suffering from asbestosis may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, a diminished capacity for physical exertion and, in some cases, deformed fingers.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the individuals who are at most at risk to experience symptoms of asbestosis are those who have endured long exposure to asbestos, allowing a larger quantity of the mineral's fibers to enter the lungs.
Breathing difficulties are not the only medical problems caused by asbestosis as a number of complications can arise from the disorder. These can include high blood pressure, heart problems and lung cancer.
When one goes to the doctor to see if he or she has asbestosis it is important that the individual's history of exposure to asbestos is relayed to the physician. This will give the doctor a better understanding of the situation.
There are a number of tests that may be performed when attempting to diagnose asbestosis. Pulmonary function tests will measure the function of the lungs, chest X-rays will detect abnormalities in the lungs and CT scans can provide greater detail of the potentially affected area.
Once an asbestosis diagnosis is made, there are a number of treatments to stop the progression of the condition. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to reverse the damage that has been done to one's lungs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for asbestosis may include smoking cessation. This can be vital as asbestosis can make one at heightened risk to develop lung cancer.
Another major part of asbestosis treatment is vaccinations to help stave off potentially lethal bouts of flu and pneumonia.
In addition, medications to treat complications related to asbestosis, such as hypertension, may be prescribed by a doctor.
Asbestos exposure can cause a number of other illnesses besides asbestosis such as malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people die from such diseases every year worldwide.