What are the Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure?

The material known as asbestos was once very widely used in UK industry, including in the construction sector, to such an extent that even to this day, there remains a very strong chance that any given building in the UK erected before the year 2000 will contain asbestos.

When asbestos is stable and contained, it is not considered to pose a risk to health. However, in the event of the substance being disturbed or damaged, loose asbestos fibres could be released into the air and inhaled. This, in turn, can present perilous risks to human health.

Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure

Who is most likely to have been exposed to asbestos?

With asbestos being particularly frequently used across a variety of industries in the UK from the 1950s until the 1970s – but not being entirely banned until 1999 – it is those who worked in those industries during that bracket of time who may be likeliest to have come into direct contact with the substance.

The industries in question range from construction, building maintenance, and mining to manufacturing and shipyards. So, if you worked in such occupations as shipyard worker, demolition worker, construction worker, electrician, carpenter or painter and decorator, there might be a higher risk of you developing asbestos-related health problems in the future.

What are the health problems associated with asbestos exposure?

There are various, both cancerous and noncancerous diseases that can develop in someone who has ingested or inhaled asbestos at some point.

Cancers that are strongly linked to past instances of asbestos exposure include:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Breathing in or swallowing asbestos can also bring a heightened risk of developing noncancerous diseases and conditions, such as:

  • Asbestosis
  • Benign pleural effusion
  • Pleuritis
  • Atelectasis
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleural thickening

The above is not an exhaustive list of the conditions that are thought to be likelier to arise in those who have come into contact with asbestos. The likes of stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, and pharyngeal cancer, for instance, have also been linked to asbestos exposure, albeit without research having so far shown a direct causal relationship.

What are the signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure?

The inhalation or ingestion of asbestos isn’t associated with any signs or symptoms in its own right; the first symptoms that you do develop in relation to asbestos exposure will be signs of actual asbestos-related disease.

As the conditions and diseases associated with asbestos exposure mostly relate to the lungs, it is lung-related symptoms that you should be especially mindful of, such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough or wheezing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • A crackling sound when breathing

However, although the lungs are the main area affected by asbestos-related disease, there are diseases related to other parts of the body – such as the throat, stomach, or colon – that can also develop as a consequence of asbestos exposure.

For that reason, you should also be alert to such symptoms as:

  • Abdominal swelling and distention
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Weight loss
  • Hernia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hoarseness
  • Clubbed fingers
  • Difficulty swallowing

If you believe that you have inhaled or ingested asbestos at some point in the past, and you begin to develop any of these symptoms, we would urge you to see your doctor as soon as possible. When you do, you should mention your asbestos exposure, so that the doctor can explore this as a potential link to any symptoms you are experiencing.

What are the risks of developing asbestos-related diseases?

There is a bit of a misconception in some quarters that coming into direct contact with asbestos automatically means the person exposed will develop a health problem at some point down the line; this is not the case, and it is important to have a proportionate appreciation of the risk.

Indeed, even some people who spend many years being regularly exposed to asbestos don’t go on to develop any health conditions related to it at all.

However, it is equally important not to underestimate the risk. Past research has indicated that about 20%, or one fifth, of people who work with asbestos later develop a related disease, and the risk is likely to be higher among people who are especially frequently exposed.

Indeed, your own level of risk will probably depend on not only the above, but also a variety of other factors. Even if you do find yourself exposed to asbestos, factors such as the length of exposure, the concentration of asbestos fibres you inhaled or ingested, and perhaps even the specific type of asbestos involved, could all affect your risk.

Some of the conditions associated with asbestos exposure may also be likelier to develop in someone who has other contributing risk factors, such as certain genetics or a smoking habit.

How long can it take for disease relating to asbestos exposure to show up?

One of the most notable things about disease arising specifically from ingesting or inhaling asbestos, is the long ‘latency period’ associated with it; in other words, it can take many years, and perhaps even decades, for disease to discernibly develop following exposure.

Mesothelioma, for instance, can take around 20 to 60 years to begin showing symptoms after exposure. Indeed, it is very rare for this cancer of the lung lining to develop any sooner than 15 years following the sufferer’s direct contact with asbestos.

Is there any treatment for asbestos exposure?

Unfortunately, once the moment of exposure has occurred, there may be very little that you can do to minimise your risk of developing asbestos-related disease, other than simply avoiding any further incidences of exposure as far as possible, and addressing lifestyle factors such as smoking.

If you do begin to show symptoms and are subsequently diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, by this stage, it will likely be too late for treatment to have a significant effect on the course of the illness. This simply further underlines the importance of taking every possible measure to help avoid asbestos exposure in the first place.

However, depending on the specific condition you have, there may still be treatment options to help control the disease and minimise pain and discomfort. These could include – in the case of asbestosis – pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy, while in the case of mesothelioma, options could include chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

But with asbestos-related disease often only being diagnosed at an advanced stage, treatment options may have to be geared towards controlling the symptoms and prolonging life for as long as possible, rather than curing the disease.

Would you like to find out more about the trusted asbestos services that our consultants at Oracle Solutions can provide, in addition to requesting a free quote? If so, we would be pleased to cater to your needs when you send us an email or give us a call.

Additional Resources About Asbestos and its Effects on Health

For more information about various health-related issues relating to asbestos, see our growing resource of health resource.