Asbestos related disease solicitors specialise in personal injury compensation claims. An asbestos related disease solicitor will usually offer free initial advice on all matters relating to asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural plaques and asbestos induced lung cancer. In most cases an asbestos related disease solicitor will deal with all the legal work involved in an asbestos related disease compensation claim at no cost and pay compensation in full with no deductions.
Pleural plaques can be found in the lungs of patients who have had asbestos exposure. Asbestos is an insulation product that is made of microscopic needle-like fibers that enter the lungs and imbed themselves deeper and deeper into the lungs. The asbestos forms a scar or an area of fibrosis that builds up on the lining of the lungs. The most common spot is the lining area closest to the diaphragm; however, pleural plaques can show up between lobes of the lung and alongside the ribcage.
It takes about 20 years post-exposure to asbestos to develop pleural plaques. Many people got them in the 1970s-1980s because it wasn’t until the 1970s that regulations against the use of asbestos were enacted. Many workers in the construction industry, shipyards and mining were exposed to the dangerous dust, not knowing that there was danger in inhaling the dust.
Asbestos can be mined from the ground and is a mineral. It has properties that make it very useful in ceiling panels, insulation, manufacturing, and fireproofing. It used to be used to wrap pipes to keep them warm, insulate boilers, and insulate electrical wires. It was used to manufacture gaskets, valves and any other product that required a substantial amount of heat resistance. Any time these products were made, installed, repaired or removed, the asbestos dust was released into the air to be breathed by whoever worked with the product.
The dust that makes up asbestos contains two types of fibers: 1) amphibole fibers and 2) chrysotile fibers. The chrysotile fibers are used more frequently in mining, industry and construction and are fortunately, soluble in water. These can cause disease but, because of their water solubility, the lungs have the ability to get rid of this type of fibre. The amphibole fibres are less commonly used but are rigid, insoluble in water, needle-like rather than curly, and imbed themselves deeper in the lungs.
Pleural plaques have few etiologies other than asbestos exposure. There are a few people, however, who are exposed to erionite fibres, which are mined, who can get pleural plaques and other symptoms suggestive of asbestos exposure. Most have asbestos exposure and about 50 percent of those exposed to asbestos (and who have a significant exposure) will get at least one pleural plaque.
Doctors can confirm the presence of pleural plaques by doing a plain x-ray of the lungs or a CT scan with contrast. Both can show the whitish area of fibrosis that is seen in pleural plaques. If a biopsy is necessary, it often shows areas of collagen bundles that are knitted together like a basket weave. Fortunately, pleural plaques, while sometimes mimicking mesothelioma in appearance, are completely benign and do not metastasise to other body areas.
In some cases, pleural plaques or fibrosis can cause pleural effusions or fluid outside of the lining of the lung. This, too, can mimic a mesothelioma until a biopsy of the fluid or the plaque can be performed. Doctors can do a needle biopsy, draw off some of the fluid from the peripheral lung area and check it for mesothelioma cells. If none are found, a pleural plaque is strongly suspected.
The biggest problem with pleural plaques is that they can occur even when a person has had a low exposure or an intermittent exposure to asbestos. This means that family members who wash the clothes of those working in asbestos industries can get pleural plaques from even minor exposure to asbestos. In fact, almost all individuals exposed to asbestos will develop at least one pleural plaque. This phenomenon is completely unlike asbestosis or mesothelioma, which needs a specific dosage threshold in order to start the disease process. It also means that those with mesothelioma or asbestosis almost always have already developed one or more pleural plaques.
Shortness of Breath
Macroscopically, the pleural plaques look like thickened areas of whitish, smooth tissue because they are made strictly of collagen fibres. Many develop calcifications and can get quite large. Those that develop calcifications interfere with the excursion of the lungs so patients can’t get enough air and are oxygen-starved. These patients complain of shortness of breath, particularly on exertion, cough and sometimes sputum production. The lungs are restricted because of the inability to expand and they are effectively “smaller” that they should be.
Even though many people will get pleural plaques after low dose exposure to pleural plaques, not everyone has symptoms. Those who have been exposed to asbestos, even in small amounts, should have an x-ray or CT scan of the chest to see if they are developing pleural plaques that will ultimately lead to symptoms or to the development of asbestosis or mesothelioma, which occur later in the disease process. Many people find out they have pleural plaques when they have a routine x-ray or a CT scan of their lungs that show the plaques incidentally. The calcium deposits in the plaque shine brightly white on x-ray. CT scan of the chest with IV contrast is considered the gold standard in diagnostics of pleural plaques.
There is no real treatment available for pleural plaques and for most people, this is not a problem because the plaque had no symptoms, especially in its early stages. The finding of pleural plaques, however, means that the patient needs to be evaluated on a regular basis because the secondary findings of asbestosis and mesothelioma quickly follow and often need aggressive therapy and have more symptoms than just having a pleural plaque. Breathing tests as well as x-rays or CT scans need to be performed to see if the lungs are becoming restrictive.
While pleural plaques are not inherently dangerous, they are harbingers of later lung damage and possible cancer to the lungs, and therefore they needed to be treated in all seriousness.