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Think You've Been Exposed To Asbestos? Here's What You Should Do

By Jennifer Mitchell
Asbestos is a dangerous material that's been linked to several diseases. If you think you've been exposed, take these steps.

Asbestos has been linked to several lung diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Until the harms of asbestos were known, this material was often used in building materials, such as drywall and insulation. It’s still used in some products, such as brake pads and linings.

If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos, here’s what you should do.

Consult a doctor

Talk to your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos. They can help you determine your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. “The good news is that one-off, limited exposure to asbestos is typically harmless short and long term,” says Dr. Sachin Gupta, a pulmonary and critical care physician at California Pacific Medical Center.

Most of the people who develop asbestos-related ilnesses were exposed to the material on a regular basis. These diseases usually take a long time to develop. Most people don’t have symptoms until 10 to 40 years after exposure, the National Cancer Institute says. If your doctor knows that you’ve been exposed to asbestos, they may monitor you for symptoms.

If symptoms occur, get a diagnosis

The signs of asbestos-related diseases can be similar to other health conditions. People with these diseases may have shortness of breath, chest pain and a chronic cough. Some asbestos-related diseases can also make you cough up blood or lose weight without trying to.

To diagnose diseases associated with asbestos, doctors may use a variety of lung tests. Imaging tests, including chest X-rays or computerized tomography (CT) scans, can help your doctor spot changes in your lungs. Your doctor may also ask you to blow big breaths into a machine to see how well your lungs are working.

Research treatment options

It’s not possible to reverse lung damage caused by asbestos exposure. However, there are treatment options for these diseases. These treatments may help reduce your symptoms or slow down the progress of the disease. They may also help you live longer.

If your lungs have been scarred by asbestos exposure, your doctor may recommend treatments to help you breathe more easily, such as oxygen therapy. If you smoke, they may recommend quitting to avoid further damage to your lungs.

The treatment options for mesothelioma and lung cancer vary depending on the stage of the disease. Doctors may recommend chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. They may also recommend surgery.

Consult an attorney

If you’re diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, consult an attorney. “The best time to call is immediately after diagnosis,” says Tina Willis, an Orlando personal injury attorney. This is because there are strict deadlines for filing a lawsuit, she says.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos but haven’t been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, an attorney may not be able to help. “Before a diagnosis, lawyers generally will not get involved, because there is no way to prove what caused general lung dysfunction, or to prove that exposure to asbestos created clear damage,” Willis says.

Asbestos is a dangerous material that has been linked to several lung diseases. If you think you’ve been exposed, let your doctor know.