What is asbestos disease?
Asbestos disease is caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. These microscopic particles are released into the air when asbestos is disturbed or damaged. If inhaled, the fibres become trapped in the lungs and over long periods of time, can cause inflammation, scarring and illness.
Types of asbestos disease:
- Mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs (or abdomen) directly caused by asbestos exposure. There are around 2,500 mesothelioma diagnoses each year.
- Asbestosis – this is scarring of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which damages the fragile air sacs in the lungs making it difficult to breathe. This damage to the lungs cannot be reversed and can increase the risk of contracting lung cancer.
- Lung cancer – exposure to asbestos (even if this was a long time ago) can lead to lung cancer. Symptoms typically only arise once the cancer is in its later stages of development.
- Pleural plaques and thickening – pleural plaques are small sections of scarring on the pleura (outer lining of the lungs). Pleural thickening is more serious causing lung problems including chest pains and breathing difficulties.
Getting a diagnosis
Asbestos disease can only be diagnosed through medical examinations and tests. If you have been exposed to asbestos, it does not necessarily mean you will get an asbestos-related condition. But it does mean that you should be extra vigilant about your health, go for regular check ups and tell your doctor about your asbestos exposure if you are having any symptoms. These may include:
- persistent cough
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- high temperature (fever) particularly at night
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
If you are worried about any symptoms at all, it’s important to visit your GP as soon as possible.