Asbestos & Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that occurs in people who have experienced prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers. The majority of people with asbestosis acquired the condition after years of working in an industrial setting, where they inhaled asbestos fibers on a regular basis.

What Is Asbestosis?

Inhaling asbestos fibers or dust over a long period of time can cause lung tissue to become scarred. This condition is called asbestosis. Asbestosis usually develops slowly and symptoms may not present until 20 years after exposure. The severity of the disease depends on the duration of exposure, and how much asbestos dust was actually inhaled.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral that does an excellent job of resisting heat and corrosion. As such, it was widely used in insulation, cement and some floor tiles and other products. However, the use of asbestos was curtailed in the 1970s due to it association with mesothelioma, asbestosis and other health problems.

There are six types of asbestos, all of which have causal links to asbestosis:

  • Chrysotile: This is the most common type of asbestos, and can currently be found in roofs, ceilings, walls and floors of homes and businesses. This form of asbestos also was used in automobile brake linings, pipe insulation, gaskets and boiler seals.
  • Amosite (brown asbestos): This is one of the two most commercially valuable forms, and was the second most commonly used mineral type of asbestos in U.S. It was used in cement sheets; thermal insulation; plumbing insulation; insulation boards; tiles for ceilings, roofs and floors; chemical insulation; electrical insulation; roofing products; fire protection; and gaskets and lagging. Exposure to amosite asbestos creates a higher risk of cancer in comparison with other types of asbestos. It has also been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
  • Crocidolite (blue asbestos): The second of the two most commercially valuable forms. Because its fibers are so thin, crocidolite is more likely to be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs than any other type of asbestos. Some studies suggest that crocidolite may be responsible for more deaths than any other type of asbestos. It was once used in ceiling tiles; fire protection; insulation boards; chemical insulation; spray-on insulation; acid storage battery casings; water encasement; cement sheets; electrical or telecommunication wires; thermal insulation (lagging and gaskets); and millboards (commercial ovens and steam pipes).
  • Tremolite: Tremolite is often found in talc, vermiculite and other minerals. Studies suggest that talc miners and millers are at higher risk for developing lung cancer and other respiratory conditions. Products that contained this form of asbestos include paints, sealants, insulation, roofing materials and plumbing materials.
  • Anthophyllite: This is one of the rarest forms of asbestos, and its use was mostly limited to products containing minerals such as vermiculite and talc. It has been linked to mesothelioma.
  • Actinolite: Actinolite is typically used with vermiculite in insulation material, gardening, concrete materials used in construction, and structural fire-proofing. It may still be present in buildings that were constructed before asbestos was known to be hazardous.

Asbestosis Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A persistent dry cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss
  • A dry, crackling sound in the lungs while breathing in
  • Wider and rounder than normal fingertips and toes (clubbing)

Treating Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. However, there are treatments that can alleviate symptoms.

  • Smokers might be prescribed medications or therapies to help them quit.
  • Flu and pneumonia vaccines are recommended for anyone with a lung disease.
  • Oxygen using a tube that fits in the nostrils or by mask may help asbestos patients with low oxygen levels.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Lung transplantation for the most severe cases.
  1. American Cancer Society (2016) “Asbestosis”
Last Modified: May 4, 2016

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