What Are The Signs of Asbestos Exposure?
The first signs of asbestos exposure are the symptoms of related diseases. There are no signs of asbestos exposure that a person could identify before a disease develops.
Signs of asbestos exposure usually involve the lungs. That’s because asbestos primarily causes lung diseases. Asbestos also causes diseases in other parts of the body. The signs of those diseases primarily affect the throat, stomach and colon.
In some instances, a routine X-ray or CT scan may identify pleural plaques. These signal that enough exposure happened to cause other asbestos-related diseases. But pleural plaques aren’t a sign that any person can watch out for because they rarely cause symptoms. Plaques begin to develop 10 to 30 years after exposure.
Signs of Asbestos Exposure Affecting the Lungs
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough or wheezing
- Crackling sound when breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Respiratory complications
- Pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid in the space surrounding a lung)
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
Signs of Asbestos Exposure Affecting Other Parts of the Body
- Abdominal swelling and distention
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Bowel obstruction
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Clubbed fingers
Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos causes cancerous and noncancerous diseases. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has confirmed that several cancers are directly caused by asbestos exposure.
Cancers Caused by Asbestos Exposure
- Lung cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Ovarian cancer
Noncancerous Diseases and Conditions Caused by Asbestos Exposure
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
- Benign pleural effusion
The IARC also found an increased risk of other cancers but haven’t proven a direct causal relationship. These include stomach cancer, pharyngeal cancer and colorectal cancer.
Occupational exposure is the No. 1 cause of asbestos-related disease. Secondary exposure can cause all of these conditions, too.
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Screening for Asbestos-Related Diseases
Asbestos-related diseases rarely produce noticeable symptoms or measurable abnormalities in early stages of development. Screening for these conditions before symptoms arise is difficult and often ineffective.
However, if you have a history of heavy asbestos exposure, screening for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases could save your life. There’s no single screening that can conclusively detect mesothelioma, but a combination of tests may help doctors find potential problems before they start to cause symptoms.
Tell your doctor if you have a history of asbestos exposure and ask for recommended screenings.
Screening Procedures for Asbestos-Related Diseases
- Chest X-ray
- Low-dose CT scan
- Bronchoalveolar lavage
- Pulmonary function tests
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends a chest X-ray and pulmonary function tests every three to five years for patients with noncancerous asbestos disease. These tests might catch cancerous changes in the chest, but are not entirely reliable.
Researchers are developing blood tests for mesothelioma. Others are developing tests for biomarkers of asbestos exposure. These tests are not accurate enough yet to detect signs of asbestos exposure or mesothelioma.
Transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test for the CA-125 protein may be used as screening tools for ovarian cancer.
Risk of Developing Asbestos-Related Diseases
Approximately 20% of people who work with asbestos develop a related disease. Some heavily exposed groups have reported even higher rates.
- 6 to 10% develop mesothelioma
- 20% to 25% develop lung cancer
- 50% of heavily exposed groups develop asbestosis
Many factors are involved in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. How long a person was exposed plays a major role. So does the concentration of asbestos fibers they inhaled.
Most people who get sick worked heavily with asbestos for most of their career.
All types of asbestos cause these diseases. Some fibers appear to be more carcinogenic such as crocidolite (blue asbestos).
Genetics and lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes or using talcum powder, are contributing risk factors for some of these conditions.
The combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of lung cancer but not mesothelioma. Smoking can worsen the progression of asbestosis.
Sometimes, noncancerous conditions develop before asbestos cancers. They are not a reliable sign that cancer will develop, but they do indicate a high level of exposure that is associated with asbestos cancers.
Pleural Plaques Signal Significant Exposure
Pleural plaques are the most common sign of significant asbestos exposure. They may develop before or alongside other asbestos-related diseases. Not everyone with plaques will develop another related disease.
A 2013 French study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute studied pleural plaques and the risk of mesothelioma. It tracked more than 5,000 asbestos workers and reported the following observations:
- Pleural plaques were found in 20.4% of workers.
- About 7.4% of workers with one to nine years of asbestos exposure developed pleural plaques.
- More than 50% of workers with 40 or more years of experience developed plaques.
- Workers with pleural plaques were approximately six to nine times more likely to later develop mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a noncancerous progressive lung disease that leads to severe lung dysfunction. It does not turn into cancer. An asbestosis diagnosis indicates a person had enough exposure to also be at risk of asbestos-related cancers, particularly lung cancer.
A 2021 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported the highest rates of asbestosis occur in construction workers. Other occupations associated with higher rates of asbestosis included insulators, pipefitters, plumbers and carpenters. Those who work in welding, boiler manufacturing, auto repair and machinery repair also had elevated rates of asbestosis.
It is less common for asbestosis patients to develop mesothelioma, but it is possible. A 2017 study published in the journal Safety and Health at Work found no clear trends between the incidence of asbestosis and mesothelioma.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine studied asbestosis and lung cancer among asbestos insulators. It found people with asbestosis were 7.4 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that many asbestosis patients die of other causes. About 9% die of mesothelioma and 38% die of lung cancer.
Pleural thickening is a noncancerous condition that is associated with heavy asbestos exposure. It does not run the risk of turning cancerous, but it may develop before some cases of mesothelioma.
Interestingly, a 1988 study of Australian crocidolite miners found an increased risk of peritoneal mesothelioma — not pleural mesothelioma — among those with pleural thickening.
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Common Questions About Signs of Asbestos Exposure
- How long can it take for disease relating to asbestos exposure to show up?
Symptoms of an asbestos-related disease typically don’t appear until about 40 years after exposure. This asbestos latency period can make a mesothelioma diagnosis difficult since patients may not have symptoms until the disease is in its advanced stages.
- What are the signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure?
Signs of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases most commonly include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Fatigue or general weakness
- Fever or night sweats
- Dry cough
- How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Safe?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no level of asbestos exposure is safe. Excess rates of cancers are found at all asbestos fiber concentrations. This means that there is no evidence for a safe level of asbestos exposure.
- Is there a test for asbestos exposure?
There is no single test to confirm asbestos exposure, but diagnostic tests for asbestos-related diseases effectively serve this purpose. Mesothelioma doctors assume the patient was exposed to asbestos when an examination reveals an asbestos-related condition.(Video) What Health Problems Can Asbestos Cause?
There are no known short-term side effects of asbestos exposure. This means that even breathing in high amounts of asbestos does not cause immediate symptoms. The long-term health effects of asbestos exposure take years or even decades to develop, with the earliest sign usually being shortness of breath.What are the potential health risks if you are exposed to asbestos? ›
- Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). ...
- Asbestos-related lung cancer. ...
- Asbestosis. ...
- Pleural thickening.
All of the asbestos diseases have a latency period. The latency period is the gap between the time you breathe asbestos and the time you start to feel sick. The latency period for asbestos diseases is between 10 to 40 years.How do I check myself for asbestos? ›
So, there's no way to know if asbestos is present in your home without paying for a professional asbestos testing service or buying an at-home test kit and sending the sample to a lab.What is considered short-term asbestos exposure? ›
What Is Short-Term Asbestos Exposure? Short-term asbestos exposure generally refers to either a brief, one-time asbestos exposure or multiple exposure incidents occurring over a few days. In general, short-term exposure to asbestos dust or asbestos-containing materials poses a relatively low health risk.Is a small amount of asbestos OK? ›
No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe, and people should always take precaution to avoid inhaling toxic dust. However, most asbestos-related diseases arise only after many years of regular exposure. An extremely intense short-term exposure also heightens the risk of disease later in life.Can a blood test detect asbestos? ›
The answer is yes and no. A new blood test has the potential to detect mesothelioma a decade before patients exhibit any symptoms. However, it cannot detect mere asbestos exposure. In fact, some individuals who have been exposed to asbestos never develop the malignant cancer, while others do.What happens if you breathe in asbestos once? ›
Is One-Time Exposure Harmful? It is possible to develop an illness such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural effusions or lung cancer after a one-time exposure to asbestos if the exposure was significant enough to lead to asbestos particles lodging in the body's tissues.What is the most common exposure to asbestos? ›
The primary route of asbestos entry into the body is inhalation of air that contains asbestos fibers. Asbestos can also enter the body via ingestion. With dermal exposure, asbestos fibers may lodge in the skin. The air pathway is the most important route of exposure to asbestos.How much asbestos can you breathe in? ›
There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure. Even one-time asbestos exposure can lead to asbestos-related diseases such as pleural thickening, lung cancer or mesothelioma.
A: An N95 mask is a disposable filtering facepiece respirator with two straps. When worn properly (with the mask making a tight seal with the user's face), it can protect against hazardous airborne particles. N95 masks do not protect against gases, vapors and cannot be used for asbestos, and they do not provide oxygen.Do we breathe in asbestos every day? ›
We are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe every day. Ambient or background air usually contains between 10 and 200 fibres for every 1,000 litres (or cubic metre) of air. Whether a person goes on to develop an asbestos-related disease depends on a range of circumstances or exposure factors.Is asbestos OK if you leave it alone? ›
If you think there may be asbestos in your home, don't panic. Asbestos-containing materials that aren't damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition.Can you wash asbestos off hands? ›
In addition to equipment, all exposed skin should be washed off to eliminate any contamination. Any equipment that cannot be cleaned must be disposed of as asbestos contaminated waste.Can you wash asbestos off your clothes? ›
You cannot easily wash asbestos out of clothes. Trying to do so can expose you to asbestos. Regular washing machines are not designed to clean asbestos-contaminated clothing. Trying to wash contaminated clothing will cause asbestos fibers to become airborne.How long does asbestos stay in the lungs? ›
The latency period depends on the duration and intensity of exposure. For people who suffered heavier exposure, such as asbestos miners and insulation workers, the latency period typically lies between 12 and 20 years, though even shorter latency periods are possible.Where is asbestos most likely to be found? ›
- Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls and beams/columns.
- Asbestos insulating board.
- Floortiles, textiles and composites.
- Textured coatings.
- Asbestos cement products.
- Roofing felt.
- Rope seals and gaskets.
It often takes 20 to 50 years of harm before the first diagnosis. Mesothelioma cancer emanates from asbestos exposure. Approximately 2% to 10% of people with lengthy asbestos exposure will get pleural mesothelioma. About 0.3% of all cancer cases involve mesothelioma.Can asbestosis be cured? ›
There is no cure for asbestosis, as the damage to the lungs is irreversible. However, you can take steps to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
What is the correct grade of mask required for Asbestos? All masks used for unlicenced Asbestos work must be FFP3 (P3) grade protection with an APF x20. These masks can be either FFP3 disposable masks or reusable masks with the correct P3 filter. Full face masks offer enhanced 40x APF protection.
Asbestos: Homeowner Information - Health Effects - EH
What to do if you think you have been exposed to asbestos
Short-Term Asbestos Exposure | Risks & Common Questions
Short-term asbestos exposure involves incidents that last less than a few days. Certain extreme events, such as the toxic exposure caused by the 9/11 attacks, can lead to a high risk of illness later in life. But in general, the health risk from short-term asbestos exposure is low.What happens if you breathe in asbestos once? ›
Is One-Time Exposure Harmful? It is possible to develop an illness such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural effusions or lung cancer after a one-time exposure to asbestos if the exposure was significant enough to lead to asbestos particles lodging in the body's tissues.Do N95 masks protect against asbestos? ›
A: An N95 mask is a disposable filtering facepiece respirator with two straps. When worn properly (with the mask making a tight seal with the user's face), it can protect against hazardous airborne particles. N95 masks do not protect against gases, vapors and cannot be used for asbestos, and they do not provide oxygen.What is the most common exposure to asbestos? ›
The primary route of asbestos entry into the body is inhalation of air that contains asbestos fibers. Asbestos can also enter the body via ingestion. With dermal exposure, asbestos fibers may lodge in the skin. The air pathway is the most important route of exposure to asbestos.How much asbestos do you need to be exposed to? ›
There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure. Even one-time asbestos exposure can lead to asbestos-related diseases such as pleural thickening, lung cancer or mesothelioma.Can a single exposure to asbestos cause mesothelioma? ›
One-time exposure to asbestos can cause diseases, including mesothelioma cancer. Researchers have found repeated exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing asbestos-related cancers. The risk to individuals who have a one-time exposure to asbestos is generally lower compared to long-term or repeated exposure.Will a mask protect you from asbestos? ›
Respirators must be equipped with HEPA filtered cartridges (color coded purple) or an N-100, P-100 or R-100 NIOSH rating. These cartridges are specific for filtering out asbestos fibers. Paper dust masks available at hardware stores do not filter out asbestos fibers and should not be used.How long does asbestos stay in the lungs? ›
The latency period depends on the duration and intensity of exposure. For people who suffered heavier exposure, such as asbestos miners and insulation workers, the latency period typically lies between 12 and 20 years, though even shorter latency periods are possible.