Asbestos has been widely used for thousands of years. Asbestos consists of bundles of fibers that are resistant to fire, heat, and certain chemicals. When these fibers are disturbed, they release tiny particles into the air that can be breathed in or ingested.
There is no safe exposure level of asbestos. However, most people do not become sick from their exposure. People may be exposed in their home, workplace, or community. Building materials such as tiles, insulation, and roofing shingles contained asbestos. Simple household products and appliances have also contained asbestos. Those who have had repeated asbestos exposure are at the highest risk of developing long-term health consequences:
It may take between 10-40 years for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to emerge. This is called the latency period. Over time, these fibers have accumulated in the body and caused scarring along with inflammation. This damage to lung tissue can be seen on a chest x-ray.
3 main conditions caused by asbestos exposure are:
- Pleural plaques – benign, patchy, fibrous thickening of the pleura
- Asbestosis – benign lung disease characterized by scarring of lung tissues
- Mesothelioma – cancer of the pleura, peritoneum, and/or pericardium
Asbestos is classified as a carcinogen, meaning it is a substance that can cause cancer. Not only can it cause mesothelioma but sometimes it plays a role in lung cancer as well. A person’s reaction to asbestos depends on how long they were exposed and the concentration of the asbestos fibers.
The first signs or symptoms of a condition caused by asbestos exposure are cough and dyspnea, or difficulty breathing. If you are experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment with your general practitioner and mention your history of asbestos exposure. If you would like more information on asbestos and cancer, please visit our site, MesotheliomaGuide.
We’d like to thank Sara Gillberg from the MesotheliomaGuide for contributing this article.