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. If you think you were exposed to asbestos, talk with your doctor about your risks.
When Do Asbestos Exposure Symptoms Begin?
The health effects of asbestos exposure usually do not appear until at least 10 years from the first exposure. Mesothelioma, the deadly and incurable cancer known to be caused by asbestos exposure, can take up to 20-50 years to develop.
Asbestos exposure occurs when fibers get lodged in the lungs, irritating the lung tissues and inflaming the air tubes and sacs in the lungs. As the inflammation continues, permanent tissue damage develops.
Early symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may include:
- Coughing up blood
- Pain in the chest or abdomen
- Shortness of breath
Additionally, smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer from asbestos exposure. A smoker who is heavily exposed to asbestos is up to 90 times more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker who was exposed.
What Are the Health Hazards of Asbestos Exposure?
Exposure to asbestos can happen at workplaces, in communities, or at home.
If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When the fibers are breathed in, they can get trapped in the lungs and remain there. The fibers can gather and cause scarring and inflammation. This affects breathing and can cause serious health problems, such as mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is rare, however, it is the most common cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). These agencies also state that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Who Is at Risk for Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure?
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in life. There are low levels of asbestos present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become sick from their asbestos exposure.
People who develop asbestos-related diseases are usually those who are exposed on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material. Since the early 1940s, millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos.
Health hazards from asbestos fibers have been seen in workers exposed in:
- Shipbuilding trades
- Asbestos mining and milling
- Manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other products
- Insulation work in the construction and building trades
- Demolition work
- Drywall removal
- Asbestos removal
- Automobile jobs
Over 30% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma are United States military veterans.
Additionally, those who worked on the frontline of rescue, recovery, and cleanup at the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center are another at-risk group.
This group includes:
- Police officers
- Construction workers
- Volunteers who worked in the rubble at Ground Zero
Cases of mesothelioma have also been found in people who live close to asbestos mines.
How Are Asbestos-Related Diseases Detected?
People who have been exposed (or think they may have been exposed) to asbestos fibers should inform their doctor about their asbestos exposure history and any symptoms they may have.
It is especially important to check with a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Persistent cough that gets worse over time
- Blood in the fluid coughed up from the lungs
- Pain or tightening in the chest
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the neck or face
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or anemia
A thorough physical exam, which includes a chest X-ray and lung function test, will likely be needed.
Chest X-rays are currently the most common way to look for asbestos-related diseases. Although they cannot detect asbestos fibers in the lungs, they can help find early signs of lung disease. A lung biopsy, which detects tiny asbestos fibers in lung tissue, is the most reliable test to confirm exposure to asbestos.
It is important to understand that these procedures cannot determine how much asbestos you may have been exposed to or whether an asbestos-related disease will develop.
Seeking Justice for Asbestos Exposure
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation. Get a free case review now to see if you may have a mesothelioma case.