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Pleural Effusion - Asbestos Solicitors - Injury Compensation Claims - Australia

LAWYER HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 090

Asbestos related diseases have been recognised for more than a century however it is only since 1991 that the use of asbestos and asbestos products has been outlawed in Australia. Due to the long period of time passing (the latency period) between exposure to asbestos fibres and development of obvious symptoms, which can be as long as 50 years after exposure, it is anticipated that new diagnoses of asbestos related diseases will continue to rise until about the year 2020. Our specialist solicitors deal with all types of asbestos related disease including compensation for asbestosis, pleural disease and asbestos lung cancer with a particular specialism in mesothelioma claim settlements. If you believe that you are suffering from an asbestos related disease we are able to arrange for you to be urgently examined by a medical consultant. We are able to provide detailed legal advice and pursue asbestos lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma claims on a no win no fee basis. We offer free advice on mesothelioma compensation claims from specialist lawyers with no further obligation.

Pleural Effusion from Asbestos Exposure

A pleural effusion is a collection of fluid that fills up the space between the lining of the lung and the lining of the chest wall. The lining of each of these areas is a continuous lining that is filled normally with small amounts of fluid and a substance that enhances the slipperiness of the lung as it expands.

A pleural effusion can come because of any number of reasons, including mesothelioma, pneumonia and any type of lung irritation. The effusion or collection of fluid happens because the lung becomes inflamed. The inflammation leads to the secretion of fluid into the space in an attempt to heal or protect the lung. Unfortunately, it only leads to less space for the lung and symptoms of pleural effusion.

The main symptoms of pleural effusion include pain, which can be sharp or dull, in the area where the collection of fluid resides. The affected individual may begin to be short of breath as the lung is encroached upon by the effusion of fluid. There may be congestion in the chest associated with a cough.

Pleural effusions can be small and have few symptoms. They can also be large and fill up the entire lung cavity, giving the individual significant shortness of breath because they effectively have only one working lung. Because pleural effusions involve the presence of free-floating fluid, the fluid usually ends up at the bottom-most portion of the lungs or along the back of the lungs if the person is lying on their back.

Pleural effusions can be unilateral, such as pleural effusions caused by lung cancer or mesothelioma. They can also be bilateral, such as fluid that collects as a result of a heart condition or fluid overload caused by kidney disease. Fluid cannot usually pass from one lung to the other and settles in the most dependent part of one side of the lungs.

Doctors can sometimes identify a patient with a pleural effusion by listening to the lungs, particularly at the bases of the lungs. There can be fluid crackles or a diminishment in lung sounds over the area affected by the effusion. This might trigger the doctor to do a plain chest x-ray that can easily tell the difference between fluid in the lung cavity and air sacs within the lung cavity. It can be difficult to find any tumours or cancers within the area of the effusion. Such changes show up better when the effusion is gone.

Doctors can use diuretic medication to clear up an effusion but this tends to work best if the effusion is due to heart failure or kidney failure. If the pleural effusion is due to a cancer or mesothelioma, medications don’t often work and the fluid must be manually drained using a needle or catheter inserted through the chest wall, allowing for drainage of the fluid. This can be difficult because, with a cancer of the lung, the fluid tends to recur quickly.

Doctors can also test for cancer or mesothelioma cells within the pleural effusion fluid and can make the diagnosis of cancer using this small amount of cancer cells.

Pleural Plaques

Compensation is not awarded in Australia for the mere presence of pleural plaques unless accompanied by another more serious asbestos related disease.

Pleural plaques are white, fibrous, raised and smooth areas of the lining of the lungs which can reside on the inside of the ribcage, on the diaphragm and on the lining of the lungs itself. They can be very small or the size of a dinner plate. Pleural plaques are related to exposure to asbestos, a mineral that breaks down into microscopic needles that enter the lungs through respiration and work their way through the lungs, landing on the lining tissues noted above.

Asbestos fibers are of two different types. There are straight fibres known as amphiboles and curly fibres known as chrysotile. Chrysotile is used most commonly and clears itself from the body because it is a water-soluble fiber. Amphibole is dangerous because of its needle-like qualities and because it is not soluble in water. It stays in the body and sets up areas of fibrosis. It should be noted that, even inhaling chrysotile is dangerous because it contains some amphiboles that will damage the lungs.

Pleural plaques, as mentioned above, consist of fibrous tissue or scar tissue. This means that the area of the lungs affected by these plaques is so scarred that the lungs cannot expand properly. The lungs effectively become encased by fibrous tissue so they are “smaller” and not able to expand the way they are supposed to. Pleural plaques are often calcified, meaning they are filled with hard calcium and are even more rigid than simple fibrous plaques.

Pleural plaques do not go on to become cancerous mesothelioma of the lungs. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer of the lining of the lungs that is particularly dangerous. While plaques do not turn into mesothelioma, you are at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma if you already know you have pleural plaques.

Because some pleural plaques are never identified until autopsy, it is difficult to know exactly how many men and women get this condition unless there are symptoms. A rough estimate of the incidence of pleural plaques is that about a third to a half of all of those individuals exposed significantly to asbestos will have calcified pleural plaques. It takes a minimum of 25 years to begin to develop pleural plaques and after 30 years, this is when a third to a half of people will definitely have plaques.

It is not easy to find pleural plaques on plain x-rays unless they are calcified. X-rays pick up calcified plaques much better on x-ray than noncalcified plaques and even then, the sensitivity is only about 8-40 percent when compared to postmortem evaluations.

So who gets pleural plaques? Studies have shown that those people exposed to the most asbestos are more likely to get pleural plaques. Some people seem to have a lesser immune response to asbestos and are less likely to develop the plaques. Amphibole inhalation also has a greater chance of causing pleural plaques than the water soluble, curly fibres.

Other types of lung cancer besides mesothelioma seem to be associated with having pleural plaques. This is not surprising because both conditions are directly related to asbestos fibre inhalation.

Pleural plaques have no cure and are progressive in nature. Patients with many pleural plaques can be treated with oxygen to improve shortness of breath.

LAWYER HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 090