Asbestos-Related Health Conditions
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is largely resistant to heat and corrosion. These properties made asbestos a highly favorable component in manufactured goods, especially building and construction materials — until dangerous effects of asbestos exposure were identified in the late 1970s. Asbestos exposure can lead to a host of health conditions that vary in severity. Though safeguards have been set around the usage of asbestos today, the conditions related to exposure continue to surface as some cancers and diseases take decades to develop.
Major Asbestos-Related Health Conditions
The risk of any disease development or other negative health consequences associated with asbestos depends on a variety of factors — including the quantity of asbestos fibers in the air during exposure, the duration and frequency of the exposure, and whether the person exposed has pre-existing health conditions that impact the lungs. People who use tobacco products are also at increased asbestos health risk.
Diseases and cancers commonly associated with asbestos exposure impact the lungs due to the inhalation of asbestos fibers. However, the damaging impacts of prolonged asbestos exposure vary in severity and location in the body.
Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of lung cancer, which is the most significant of asbestos-related diseases. Lung cancer has claimed more lives than any other asbestos-related health condition. During asbestos exposure, fibers settle in the lung tissue causing damage to lung cells which makes the cells more vulnerable to becoming cancerous. Because it may take asbestos-related lung cancer 15–35 years to develop after exposure, many cases are related to prior work experience, most notably in the construction industry.
After inhaling asbestos for an extended period — most likely on the job in the construction or manufacturing industry — you are at risk of developing asbestosis, a lung disease. Fibers inhaled from asbestos can cause lung tissue damage and scarring, leading to shortness of breath, persistent coughing, and chest tightness.
Mesothelioma is asbestos-related cancer that specifically develops in the lining of the lungs, the mesothelium, rather than inside the lungs. Tumors associated with mesothelioma can develop in the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Longer lengths of time exposed to asbestos can put you at greater risk of developing mesothelioma. The symptoms of this cancer can be treated, especially if caught early on. However, mesothelioma may take 20–50 years to develop into cancer after exposure.
Gastrointestinal, Kidney, and Throat Cancer
When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, fibers are released that may be inhaled or ingested. Though most damage from these fibers is associated with the lungs, there is evidence that some cancers in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, kidney, and throat may be linked to asbestos exposure. These cancers in particular would generally follow working directly with products containing asbestos.
Scarring of the Lung Lining
Inhaled asbestos fibers are incredibly irritating to the lung tissues, including the pleura, the thin, fragile membrane encompassing the lungs. Asbestos fibers can scratch and become trapped in this layer leaving scar tissue which causes a thickened pleura. This scarring is not always severe — however, it can be a sign of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers.
A pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid between the layers of the pleura, the delicate membrane surrounding the lungs. Pleural effusions can be caused by a variety of conditions and illnesses, but can also be caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos fibers trapped in the pleura can cause swelling and inflammation in the lungs. This swelling increases the risk of fluid leaking in through blood vessels in the lungs.
Common Symptoms of Asbestos-Related Health Conditions
It can take decades after initial exposure to asbestos for health conditions and symptoms to manifest. Some common symptoms of asbestos-related health conditions include:
Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
Coughing up blood in mucus
Pain or tightness in the chest
Contact your healthcare provider about concerns with any of the symptoms listed above.
Who’s Health is at Risk because of Asbestos?
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, regulations were put in place by the U.S. government that has led to a significant decrease in the use of asbestos. It is likely that buildings and homes built before this time however do contain some level of asbestos. Before the regulations, asbestos was frequently used in insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, and other commonly used building materials.
Reduce Asbestos Health Risks with At Home Asbestos Testing Kits
The best way to ensure that your environment is free of asbestos is to have it tested. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will have a sample tested in an accredited laboratory. From these results, Asbestos Project Management will be able to assess the situation and remove the asbestos safely and securely. Asbestos Project Management also offers at-home testing and inspection services. Contact us today to learn more!Back To Blog