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Asbestosis is one of several illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos. This rare condition may not get as much attention as lung cancer or mesothelioma, but asbestosis is a serious, debilitating, incurable illness. Inhalation of asbestos fibers is the only known cause of asbestosis. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos develops this illness, but everyone exposed is at high risk.

Asbestosis is a lung condition caused by damage inhaled asbestos fibers do to lung tissues. This damage over time causes tissue scarring. Known as fibrosis, this lung scarring eventually leads to asbestosis, including pain and difficulty breathing. Because asbestosis is not cancer, the life expectancy for people diagnosed is good, although there is no known cure.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a natural mineral  used for insulation, fireproofing, and increasing strength in building materials for thousands of years. Its use in construction and shipbuilding expanded in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Effective and inexpensive, asbestos was used in many industries for many different applications.

The fibers of asbestos can become airborne where they can easily be inhaled When inhaled, fibers lodge in the tissues in the body where they cause irritation and cell damage. People most at risk for exposure worked in jobs with asbestos materials. These jobs include construction, mining, ship building, and jobs in the U.S. Navy.

What is Asbestosis?

Some people exposed to asbestos may develop cancer. Lung cancer is most common, but the very deadly and rare mesothelioma is also a possibility. Another condition that may develop after asbestos exposure is asbestosis. Asbestosis occurs in individuals who have inhaled asbestos dust. As the body attempts to remove the asbestos dust from the lungs, scar tissue forms. which can make breathing painful or difficult. Over time, symptoms may worsen as more tissue damage occurs. Symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe, but like other asbestos-related diseases, may not appear until decades after exposure. Asbestosis does not occur from exposure to asbestos that is not airborne.

Prevention is crucial for asbestosis because there is no known cure. Knowing how to work safely around asbestos can prevent this illness. Severity of the condition depends on the level and duration of asbestos exposure. Those exposed to asbestos regularly and for long periods of time are more likely to have severe symptoms.

Symptoms of Asbestosis

Asbestosis usually develops slowly and symptoms may not be noticed until decades after exposure to asbestos dust. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, dry and persistent cough, chest tightness and pain, and loss of appetite. Also, clubbing of the fingers or toes, as well as fingernail and toenail abnormalities, may also accompany asbestosis. Clubbing means the fingers or toes are rounded and wide at the tips.


If you experience these symptoms, especially if you may have been exposed to asbestos asbestos exposure, you should see your doctor for diagnosis. Your doctor will begin with a physical exam and then perform imaging scans of your lungs. This may start with a chest X-ray to check for fluid in your lungs, which can rule out pneumonia. You may also get a CT scan for a clearer image of the lungs. Doctors may also perform a lung function test to determine how well your lungs are working.

If your doctor or a specialist suspects you may have a type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, like lung cancer or mesothelioma, they may also perform a biopsy. A biopsy involves the removal of tissue to be examined under a microscope. Scans may show your lung tissue is thickened, which could be characteristic of the scar tissue caused by asbestosis. However, a biopsy can determine if the thickened tissue is cancerous.

Asbestosis Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no treatment to cure asbestosis or reverse the damage the asbestos has causes on the lungs. However, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help relieve symptoms and prevent worsening damage. Quitting smoking is the most important thing anyone diagnosed with asbestosis can do.

Treatments to lessen the severity of make symptoms include receiving supplemental oxygen. Scar tissue from asbestosis prevents deep breathing, often hindering the amount of oxygen your body receives. Supplemental oxygen will deliver more oxygen with each breath.

You may also be prescribed aerosol medications. These medications make breathing easier by thinning out fluids in the lungs. People with asbestosis are also encouraged to receive vaccinations the flu and other respiratory infections. In extreme cases of asbestosis scarring, a lung transplant may be a treatment option.


The prognosis for asbestosis varies greatly by individual. However, breathing may become more difficult over time, even after asbestos exposure is no longer an issue.The amount of exposure to asbestos, the duration of that exposure, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, age and general health all affect prognosis. Although it is uncomfortable, the overall prognosis for asbestosis is better than it is for individuals who develop mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Living with Asbestosis

Living with an incurable condition that impairs breathing is difficult. However, making important lifestyle choices can ease the difficulty. Practicing healthy habits is important. Good nutrition, sufficient hydration, moderate exercise, and adequate sleep will improve quality of life. With a lung condition, it is important to avoid infections and exposure to air pollutants. These could lead to serious complications.

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis and suspect you were exposed to asbestos through your workplace, you may have a case for compensation. Asbestos lawyers are familiar with laws relating to workplace illness and asbestos. An experienced attorney and can help you make a case against an employer, or the manufacturer of asbestos-containing materials asbestos that caused your illness

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by
Luis Argote-Greene, MD

Luis Marcelo Argote-Greene, MD
Luis Argote-Greene is an internationally recognized thoracic surgeon. He has trained and worked with some of the most prominently known thoracic surgeons in the United States and Mexico, including pioneering mesothelioma surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker. He is professionally affiliated with University Hospitals (UH). His areas of interest and expertise are mesothelioma, mediastinal tumors, thoracic malignancies, lung cancer, lung transplantation, esophageal cancer, experimental surgery, and lung volume reduction. Dr. Argote-Greene has also done pioneering work with video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), as well as robotic assisted minimally invasive surgery. He has taught the procedures to other surgeons both nationally and internationally.

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