Asbestosis is a lung disease that occurs from breathing in asbestos fibers.
Pulmonary fibrosis - from asbestos exposure; Interstitial pneumonitis - from asbestos exposure
Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.
How severe the disease is depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount that was breathed in. Often, people do not notice symptoms for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.
Asbestos fibers were commonly used in construction before 1975. Asbestos exposure occurred in asbestos mining and milling, construction, fireproofing, and other industries. Families of asbestos workers can also be exposed from particles brought home on the worker's clothing.
Other asbestos-related diseases include:
Pleural plaques (calcification)
Malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung), which can develop 20 to 40 years after exposure
Pleural effusion, which is a collection that develops around the lung a few years after asbestos exposure
Workers today are less likely to get asbestos-related diseases because of government regulations.
Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath with activity (slowly gets worse over time)
- Tightness in the chest
Possible other symptoms include:
- Clubbing of fingers
- Nail abnormalities
Exams and Tests
When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the doctor may hear crackling sounds called rales.
These tests may help diagnose the disease:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the lungs
- Pulmonary function tests
There is no cure. Stopping exposure to asbestos is essential. To ease symptoms, drainage and chest percussion can help remove fluids from the lungs.
The doctor may prescribe aerosol medicines to thin lung fluids. People with this condition may need to receive oxygen by mask or by a plastic piece that fits into the nostrils. Certain patients may need a lung transplant.
You can ease the stress of this illness by joining a lung support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Outcome depends on the amount of asbestos you were exposed to and how long you were exposed.
Persons who develop malignant mesothelioma tend to have a poor outcome.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you suspect that you have been exposed to asbestos and you have breathing problems.
In people who have been exposed to asbestos for more than 10 years, screening with a chest x-ray every 3 to 5 years may detect asbestos-related diseases early. Stopping cigarette smoking can greatly reduce the risk of asbestos-related lung cancer.
Cowie RL, Becklake MR. Pneumoconioses. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 73.
Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 93.
- Last reviewed on 6/22/2015
- Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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