Asbestos Exposure: Facts About Signs and Symptoms

Asbestos is fibrous mineral that occurs naturally. There are several types of asbestos, but Amosite and Chrysotile are the most common; the former appears brown while the latter appears white. A third type, which is blue, is called Crocidolite. Before the dangers of asbestos were well known, the potential of this fiber seemed extremely promising, given that it is resistant to a multitude of chemicals, as well as fire, and does a superior job insulating buildings. For this reason it was used heavily between 1930 and 1950, as well as up until its ban in 1977 in the United States.

SEM photo of Chrysotile.

Where Asbestos is Found
Asbestos was most commonly combined with additional materials to make products like clutch pads, brake linings, plasters, roofing shingles, building joint compounds, sprayable fire proofing, ceiling tiles, building insulation, ceiling insulation, floor tiles, cements, siding shingles, cements and caulks.

Risk Factors
The extent of the damage of asbestos exposure depends on whether a patient has other lung diseases, the duration of the exposure, the amount of asbestos present in the air, and the type of asbestos fiber to which exposure occurred.

Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure
There are many symptoms of asbestos exposure, the most prominent being shortness of breath, but others include a productive a cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, chest tightness, and a crackling sound upon inhalation.

Health Effects Caused by Asbestos
Asbestos fibers, though strong and useful, are also extremely fine. When disturbed they can easily be inhaled and cause lung disease and cancer. Ingestion is harmful as well. However, when materials containing these fibers remain undisturbed they do not pose a threat. If ingested asbestos fibers enter the digestive tract; if inhaled, the fibers embed far into the lungs.

Asbestosis: This non-cancerous respiratory disease is chronic, a result of lung tissues being aggravated and scarred by the presence of asbestos fibers. A dry crackling sound and shortness of breath are the two primary symptoms.

Mesothelioma: This rare form of cancer is almost entirely caused by asbestos and can occur in the abdomen, chest, lungs and in rare cases the heart.

● Lung Cancer: Asbestos exposure alone can cause lung cancer, but those who smoke are 50-84 times more likely to develop the disease.

Pleural Disease: The lining of the lungs is called the pleura. Changes in this lining usually are the only present signs of asbestos exposure and this is the least serious disease caused by this exposure. Fluid may build up around the lung, the pleura may thicken, and plaques and calcifications may form as well.

How to Reduce Asbestos Exposure
The only way to truly avoid asbestos exposure is to know in which materials it is located. If this information is not known then materials, such as the insulation of a home, should be tested for the presence of asbestos.

How to Treat Asbestos Exposure
Treatment depends on the disease caused by asbestos exposure. Lung cancer and mesothelioma are treated with targeted therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery. Asbestosis and pleural effusion are treated by the cessation of smoking or the removal of fluid from the lung; also, medicines can be prescribed to relieve complications, reduce pain and prevent fluid buildup.