What is Pulmonary Fibrosis and what causes it?
The word ‘pulmonary’ is used in relation to the lungs and according to the Health and Safety Executive, fibrosis is defined as a respiratory disease; one that is an irreversible and progressive scarring process of the lungs.
It can stem from lung diseases such as silicosis, which can develop over years. This type of lung disease is caused by inhaling particles of respirable crystalline silica (RCS), also known as silica dust. This is a mineral often referred to as quartz, which can be found in many materials and objects; such as soil, rock, stone, concrete, granite, manufactured glass, construction materials and many others.
It is the cutting, drilling, blasting or grinding of such objects which creates the silica dust, or other types of hazardous substances, at a minuscule size, which is easily inhaled. These dust particles belonging to the hazardous mineral are too small to be seen and if they are inhaled, they can impair the lungs and cause them to become inflamed.
Once this has happened, it will take some time for the lungs to then form scar tissue; known as fibrosis, which can stiffen the lungs over time, making it more difficult for oxygen to get into the blood. On having a chest x-ray, this excess tissue scarring would reveal itself.
One of the main triggers of pulmonary fibrosis is the inhaling of various occupational toxins; inorganic/organic dust, asbestos, silicosis, gases and radiation. Jobs involving exposure to metal dusts, asbestos, silica or coal dust can leave workers at risk of contracting the disease if they are not sufficiently protected by their employer; particularly those working or who have worked in construction and mining.
Who is most likely at risk of contracting Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is rare for people under 50 years old. As it can take many years to develop, it generally tends to affect those between the ages of 70 and 75, but this is only a guideline.
The British Lung Foundation, states that around 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a form of lung disease every week; including pulmonary fibrosis. More often than not, sufferers are diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF); meaning that the cause of the condition is not known. However, it is becoming more common for people to realise that it could have been work-related, due to a lack of sufficient protection from their employer in the workplace.
If you have worked in any environment involving certain types of metal or wood dust and you feel you may be affected in any way, it is important to spot the symptoms (see below) as early as possible so that the process can be prolonged by various treatments. Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibrosis, but making a claim for compensation could help with covering the costs of any treatment or other expenses you may have incurred as a result of the condition.
In addition to pulmonary fibrosis and IPF, there are other conditions that have similar causes and symptoms, such as asbestosis and pleural fibrosis.
Pleural fibrosis is a lung condition whereby a person develops tissue, consisting of many white fibres, in the pleura; a vital membrane, normally very flexible, that lines the chest and surrounds the lungs. In the case of pleural fibrosis, this flexible, protective membrane becomes thicker and stiffer, which can usually be harmless, but if it leads to breathlessness and ‘strangulation’ of the lungs, it could spread to further complications.
Through examination and testing of the fibrous tissue, pleural fibrosis has often been proven as a result of exposure to asbestos, due to remnants of the mineral found there. Whether the exposure to this was heavy over a short period of time, or vice versa, pleural fibrosis can take as long as 15 years to develop.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Symptoms
Similarly to other lung-related conditions, the most common pulmonary fibrosis symptoms can consist of some or all of the following:
- Persistent dry coughing
- Breathlessness (particularly with everyday activities)
- Feeling tired and weak
- Discomfort in the chest area
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- ‘Clubbing’ of the fingers (when fingertips look bigger and more rounded than usual)
There are different levels of fibrosis and severities of the symptoms; chronic, accelerated and acute. If you have the condition, the symptoms may not even exist or they will be mild during the early stages of contracting it. Over time, as the lungs develop more and more of the fibrosis (scar tissue), the symptoms will become worse.
If you are unsure whether you have the condition and feel you may be suffering from some of these symptoms, the next step is to get an x-ray that would identify any damage to the lungs.
Is there anything in place to protect me from contracting pulmonary fibrosis at work?
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) is a regulating body, established in 2002, with rules in place for protection against dangerous substances in the workplace. Employers must comply with this law to make sure that they are providing a 'duty of care' to workers.
Your employer must be vigilant in making sure all health and safety risk assessments are carried out. If any risks are detected, it is the employer’s responsibility to take action in reducing or eliminating them.
If your employer breaches these regulations and puts you at risk in any way, then you are susceptible to such diseases and injuries, meaning that you would be entitled to claim for compensation; something that could help with covering any expenses.
Accident Line Direct
If you feel that you may be suffering from a type of fibrosis due to an exposure to dusts in your workplace and a lack of care from your employer, contact us at Accident Line Direct today to find out more information on making a claim for compensation.
We operate on a No Win No Fee basis, meaning that you are not put under any financial stress or pressures.
We are sensitive to the fact that compensation may not ease your condition or your suffering, but it could help towards the costs of your medical care, giving you some peace of mind financially. Call us for free today to ask any questions you feel you may have.