Skip to content

    Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

    Font Size

    Asbestos Exposure

    Asbestos Exposure: Causes and Risks continued...

    Several factors are involved in how asbestos exposure affects an individual. These include:

    • How much asbestos a person was exposed to
    • How long the person was exposed
    • The size, shape and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
    • The presence of other lung diseases

    Cigarette smoking also increases the risk of problems related to asbestos exposure.

    There are different forms of asbestos. Although all forms are considered hazardous, different types of asbestos fibers may be associated with different health risks. For example, the results of several studies suggest that amphibole forms (which have longer, more durable fibers) may be more harmful than chrysotile forms (which have curly fibers), particularly for mesothelioma risk, because they tend to stay in the lungs longer.

    Asbestos cancer and other health problems take many years to develop. Most cases of lung cancer or asbestosis in asbestos workers occur 15 or more years after initial exposure to asbestos. For mesothelioma -- cancer of the lining of the lungs -- the lag time is even longer. The time between initial asbestos exposure and mesothelioma commonly has been 30 years or more.

    Asbestos Symptoms

    The respiratory tract is the most common site of asbestos exposure symptoms. Symptoms differ depending on the particular problem.

    The main symptom of asbestosis is shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:

    • Persistent cough that produces mucus
    • Chest tightness
    • Chest pain
    • Loss of appetite
    • Dry, crackling sound in lungs while inhaling

    Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

    The main symptoms of mesothelioma of the lungs are shortness of breath and chest pain. Symptoms of abdominal mesothelioma can include:

    Because many conditions share these symptoms, having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have asbestos-related cancer or lung damage. If you experience symptoms, it's important to see your doctor.

    Diagnosing Asbestos-Related Problems

    Diagnosing asbestos-related health problems can take some time. The diagnostic process will begin with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will ask you about other medical problems you have as well as any history of asbestos exposure. Depending on the findings of the exam and history, your doctor may order tests including the following:

    Today on WebMD

    man coughing
    You may not even know you have it.
    blood clot
    Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
    man coughing
    When a cold becomes bronchitis.
    human lungs
    Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.

    chest x-ray
    Bronchitis Overview
    Copd Myth Fact Quiz
    Energy Boosting Foods

    woman coughing
    Lung xray and caduceus