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Learn About Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that is caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibers in the air.

Key Facts:

  • Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral used as an insulation material. Exposure to asbestos can occur in certain occupations.
  • Inhalation of large amount of asbestos fibers or its dust over a long period of time can produce scarring of lung tissues. This scarring is called asbestosis.
  • There is no treatment for asbestosis. Preventing inhalation by wearing proper protective masks in the work place is the key to prevent the disease.

What Is Asbestosis

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral used as an insulation material. Exposure to asbestos can occur in several occupations. Large amounts of asbestos fibers or dust inhaled over long period of time can produce damage and scar tissue in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. This condition is called asbestosis.

How It Affects Your Body

Inhaled asbestos fibers and dust are trapped in the lung. The lung tries unsuccessfully to remove the asbestos through the immune system, leading to damage and scar tissue. Asbestosis usually develops slowly and may not be noticed until 20 years after asbestos dust exposure. Other health problems besides asbestosis are also related to asbestos exposure; these thickening and hardening of the lining of the lung (pleural plaques) fluid around the lung (pleural effusions), and malignant mesothelioma, a cancer surrounding the lung.  Smokers with asbestos exposure are also at very high risk of developing lung cancer.

How Serious is Asbestosis?

The severity of asbestosis depends on how long you were exposed to asbestos and the amount you inhaled. Asbestosis does not occur from exposure to asbestos that is not in an inhalable dust form. Exposure from buildings with where asbestos insulation is not exposed to the air does not increase your risk of asbestosis. Sometimes the symptoms are only mild, and you may be diagnosed only with chest X-ray. However, breathing may become more difficult over time as asbestosis progresses, even after you are no longer exposed to asbestos. You may eventually need supplemental oxygen therapy to help you breathe. The disease can lead to failure of the heart and lungs and sometimes death.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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