Asbestosis is a progressive, long-term lung disease that develops from inhaling asbestos fibers. After several years, the inhalation of these fibers can lead to irritation and scarring in the lungs and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.

Asbestosis is not a cancer but rather a nonmalignant lung disorder. However, it is still a very serious disease that can be disabling and potentially fatal.

Symptoms of Asbestosis

Asbestosis has a long latency period so the symptoms may not become evident for at least 10 to 20 years. However, symptoms can gradually increase over time and include:

  • Shortness of breath is the primary symptom
  • A persistent and productive cough (a cough that expels mucus)
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clubbing of fingers
  • A dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling.

If you experience any of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, see a doctor immediately. There are several treatment options that help reduce the severity of these symptoms.

Exposure to Asbestos

Asbestosis is caused by asbestos exposure. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, but those who have prolonged exposure to it–such as construction workers, military veterans, miners, and demolition workers– are more likely to become ill from this toxic substance.

If you live or work in an older, asbestos-containing building, seek professional help before having it removed. When handled by a pro, asbestos can be removed safely and entirely from your business or residence.

Risk Factors

There are a variety of factors that affect how exposure to asbestos will affect someone including:

  • Concentration of exposure to asbestos fibers
  • Duration of exposure to asbestos fibers
  • Frequency of exposure to asbestos fibers
  • Size, shape and chemical makeup of asbestos fibers
  • History of tobacco use
  • Pre-existing lung disease


Because its symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses, asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose. A variety of tests may be needed confirm a diagnosis:

Chest X-ray: Asbestosis appears as excessive whiteness in your lung tissue.
Computerized Tomography (CT): Cross-sectional images of tissue and bone that can provide an earlier diagnosis of asbestosis than X-rays alone.
Pulmonary Function Tests: Lung capacity and airflow in and out of lungs are measured to evaluate overall lung functioning.


There’s no treatment that can reverse asbestosis, but there are treatments that can relieve symptoms and possibly slow down progression of the disease:

  • Medications: Prescription inhalers–like those used by people with asthma–are sometimes prescribed for breathing problems
  • Therapy: Supplemental oxygen delivered through thin tubes in the nostrils may be prescribed by doctors to help with breathing difficulty
  • Surgery: Patients with severe systems may be lung transplant candidates


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