Asbestosis is a lung condition that develops over time as a result of breathing in asbestos dust and fibers. The long-term contact with these fibers can cause lung tissue scarring and respiratory issues that result in shortness of breath. Asbestosis symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe and often appear years after the first asbestos exposure.

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral product, is resistant to heat and corrosion. In the past, it found extensive use in products including insulation, cement, and even floor tiles.

Inhaling asbestos particles or fibers can lead to lung fibrosis, a condition characterized by lung tissue thickening and scarring. Moreover, asbestos exposure can cause thickening of the pleura, the lung-surrounding membranes.

This process of lung tissue becoming scarred and thicker can lead to challenges in breathing.

Most cases of asbestosis originated from occupational exposure, especially prior to the enforcement of asbestos regulations in the 1970s. Presently, strict protocols govern asbestos handling, and following employer safety guidelines substantially mitigates the risk of developing asbestosis. It remains crucial for exclusively trained and certified asbestos experts to manage asbestos-related materials. Treatment primarily focuses on relieving the symptoms linked to the condition.


Symptoms of asbestosis can vary, contingent on the severity of the disease. However, the effects of prolonged exposure to asbestos typically do not become apparent until 10 to 40 years after the initial exposure. The symptoms may range in severity depending on the individual case.

The signs and symptoms of asbestosis may include the following:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Dry and crackling sounds in the lungs when breathing.
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Clubbing of the fingers (enlargement and rounding of fingernails and toenails)

Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos in the past and are encountering gradual breathing difficulties should prioritize consulting their healthcare professional to assess the potential existence of asbestosis. Taking timely action to seek medical advice and openly discuss symptoms can facilitate early identification and proper treatment.


Airborne fibers can become trapped within the alveoli, which are the tiny sacs inside the lungs responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide to the bloodstream, when exposed to high quantities of asbestos dust for an extended length of time. Asbestos fibers cause irritation and scarring of the lung tissue, which makes the lungs more rigid. As a result of the lungs stiffening, breathing becomes difficult.

The scarring of the lung tissue worsens as asbestosis progresses. The lung tissue eventually becomes so stiff that it is unable to expand and contract appropriately during breathing. Breathing problems and respiratory issues are further exacerbated by this reduced lung function.

Smoking is believed to contribute to increased retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, leading to a faster advancement of the disease in individuals with asbestosis.

Risk factors

The greatest risk of having asbestosis is among people who worked in the mining, milling, manufacturing, installation, or removal of asbestos goods before the late 1970s. These high-risk professions include the following:

  • Miners of asbestos
  • Auto mechanics and aircraft
  • Boiler operators
  • Construction workers
  • Electricians
  • Railroad workers
  • Mill and refinery workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation from older buildings’ steam pipes

The risk of asbestosis is primarily associated with both the quantity and duration of exposure to asbestos. Greater exposure to asbestos increases the likelihood of developing lung damage and, consequently, the risk of asbestosis.

Secondhand exposure to asbestos is feasible for household members of workers who have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos fibers can be inadvertently carried home on the clothing of exposed individuals, potentially putting their family members at risk. Additionally, individuals living in close proximity to asbestos mines might also be at risk of exposure to asbestos fibers that are released into the air during mining activities.