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Pleural Thickening

The pleura is an important part of the respiratory system. It plays a vital role in the healthy functioning of the lungs by forming a protective cushion and smooth lubrication system. The pleura is a thin membrane in the chest cavity consisting of two layers. The visceral pleura layer covers the lungs’ surface while the parietal pleura forms an outer membrane lining the inner wall of the chest and diaphragm. The pleural space between these layers contains a small amount of fluid to act as a protective cushion to help the two layers glide smoothly against each other with every breath. Ideally, this functions to facilitate easy, relaxed breathing, but in some cases, the tissue of the pleura becomes thickened and less thin and smooth.

Pleural thickening occurs as the result of scar tissue forming on the pleura and disrupting the delicate balance of smooth tissue. In some cases, the thickening becomes diffuse and widespread, interfering with respiration. Pleural thickening may result from asbestos exposure and sometimes indicates the presence of serious diseases including malignant pleural mesothelioma. In many cases, it’s a precursor to malignancy.

If you or a family member suffer from pleural thickening with or without malignancy and with known exposure to asbestos, you deserve financial compensation for your medical care expenses, future expenses, and financial damages. The attorneys at the law firm of Bailey & Glasser, LLP, have years of experience handling asbestos-related lung disease claims. You can gain experienced, diligent legal help with your claim by contacting our office today.

Pleural Thickening vs Pleural Plaques

When inhaled into the lungs, asbestos particles can become lodged in the pleura of the lungs. Over time, the trapped particles cause ongoing inflammation that may lead to scarring. When scarring forms in small, clearly defined areas they form plaques, which rarely cause symptoms or require treatment, but which may be an early indicator of high risk for developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses.

When the scarring is widespread, more calcified, and causes thickening of large areas of the pleura, it’s known as pleural thickening. Both conditions are commonly linked to asbestos exposure and indicate a higher likelihood of mesothelioma risk. While pleural plaques are almost always asymptomatic, pleural thickening may cause noticeable and uncomfortable symptoms.

Symptoms of pleural thickening include:

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath or difficulty breathing)
  • Dry cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty taking deep breaths or shallow breathing
  • Pain during inhalation or exhalation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Respiratory failure

Unlike plaques, pleural thickening may lead to decreased lung capacity and in severe or advanced cases may lead to respiratory failure even without malignancy.

Though most cases of pleural thickening don’t interfere greatly in activity during the early stages, and some cases remain stable for years, the presence of thickening indicates prolonged, damaging asbestos exposure and may go hand in hand with mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos.

What is Asbestos and How Does It Damage the Lungs?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral deposit found worldwide, including in the coastal regions of both the eastern and western United States. Though the last asbestos mine closed in the early 2000s, asbestos mining, milling, and processing was profitable business through much of the 1900s. The mined ore forms naturally fibrous silicate that many industries found useful due to its strong, flexible nature, natural fire resistance, and heat-insulating properties. Mining and production decreased gradually beginning in the 1970s as the negative effects on the lungs became better understood, but continued throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s when a wetting agent used during processing helped to minimize the release of dangerous fibers. 

Unfortunately, the use of asbestos in a wide array of products, including building materials, means that exposure also occurs in individuals living or working in structures built with asbestos products. As these buildings age and degrade, microscopic fibers diffuse through the air in dust and eventually cause serious problems including pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma occurs in several types. These include:

Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer most commonly found in the lining of the chest or abdomen. It’s caused by asbestos in those with prolonged exposure. The tiny fibers are tough, sharp, and long-lasting which causes inflammation and scarring which may eventually result in cell damage and the formation of cancer cells.

Products With Asbestos

Though pleural thickening, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases are most common in those who worked with asbestos materials, it’s also found in those exposed through a spouse or loved one who worked with asbestos and carried the dust on their clothing, hair, and body. It’s also sometimes diagnosed in those who lived or worked in structures with asbestos in the construction materials.

Asbestos was used in a variety of products including:

  • Wall and attic insulation
  • Floor tiles
  • Roofing and ceiling products
  • Siding shingles
  • Hot water plumbing
  • Textured paint, adhesives, and patching products
  • Asbestos paper and millboard around wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Heating furnaces
  • Heat and fire-resistant clothing
  • Automotive brake and clutch systems

Those most at risk of developing pleural thickening and other asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, are those with the most significant and prolonged exposure at work.

Industries related to asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestos mining
  • Asbestos milling and processing
  • Building and Construction industries
  • Shipbuilding
  • Asbestos textile manufacturing
  • Demolition industry
  • Paper mill workers
  • Railroad repair
  • Drywall removal
  • Firefighters

First responders and those who helped in the cleanup in New York City after the September 11th terror attack on the World Trade Center also experienced significant asbestos exposure. The collapse of the towers forced hundreds of tons of asbestos dust into the air from the building materials used in the construction. Because the latency period of mesothelioma development is anywhere from 20 to 60+30 years, those involved in the cleanup of the World Trade Center may only now begin to develop cancers, just as those exposed before restrictions to asbestos mining and use may develop mesothelioma many years later.

Do You Have a Claim for Pleural Thickening and/or Mesothelioma?

If you or a family member experienced significant exposure to asbestos and now have a diagnosis of pleural thickening with or without mesothelioma, you may be at a higher risk of developing malignant mesothelioma or other diseases associated with exposure to asbestos.