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With Memorial Day having come and gone another year and Independence Day quickly approaching this time of year gives us an opportunity to remember those who have served faithfully in our military, some who have given their lives and some their health. This year marked the thirty-sixth anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War. With another year passing more of those who served during this war and were exposed to another deadly enemy, asbestos, have suffered the consquences. Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads. The fiber has been used in many industries for its resistance to heat, fire, chemicals, and electricity, making it useful in products for use within ships, submarines, quickly fabricated buildings, and industrial yards.

Though these products had many beneficial and useful applications many have come to find the fiber had caused serious health problems, usually some decades after exposure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have all labeled this fiber as known human carcinogen, putting asbestos in the same category of nuclear radiation and cigarettes. Aside from causing cancer, the fiber is also linked to asbestosis, a condition that causes chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.

Most people do not start to see symptoms of asbestos related diseases for many years, some as long as forty or more years. If you or a loved one has any of the following symptoms and served in the military during the Vietnam War or before, you should check with your doctor:

  • · Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness.
  • · A persistent cough that gets worse over time.
  • · Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs.
  • · Pain or tightening in the chest.
  • · Difficulty swallowing.
  • · Swelling of the neck or face.
  • · Loss of appetite.
  • · Weight loss.
  • · Fatigue or anemia.

Typically asbestos related diseases can be detected with a simple chest x-ray. Although no treatments are yet available to reverse the damage done to your lungs if you have an asbestos related disease, treatments are available that may relieve symptoms and prevent or delay further complications such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. In this time of remembrance please encourage your loved ones living with these symptoms to seek the care of their doctor. Just as they protected us for so many years, now is the time for us to watch out for them. If you served our country and are now suffering from these symptoms please get checked to ensure that you are around to celebrate with your family and friends next year.

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