We often listen to medical experts say asbestos is dangerous to humans, but what does it mean? How much exposure is needed for asbestos to be harmful? What are the health issues caused by it?
Exposure to asbestos fibers and particles causes lung disease, cancer, and other severe medical conditions. Unfortunately, no known exposure level is considered safe for humans. While there have been bans and regulations on asbestos usage, it is still present in many old homes and buildings.
In fact, asbestos-related medical issues continue to increase globally, regardless of healthcare agencies and governments introducing new and improved health and safety policies.
The long-term dangers of asbestos exposure are well documented. Asbestos particles are easily carried or inhaled into the lungs, leading to various conditions like changes in the chest cavity lining and fibrotic lung disease.
What’s more, these illnesses can result in respiratory issues or death in most cases. Furthermore, lung term-absorption and inhalation can also lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and heart enlargement.
That said, employees who work in specific industries should know about these long-term damages, and this article will highlight medical issues caused by asbestos exposure. Let’s get started.
Mesothelioma is relatively rare in most cases of asbestos exposure. However, this disease is observed in individuals working in construction, shipbuilding, tile cutting, insulations installation, and other related industries.
Typically, there are three types of mesothelioma – Peritoneal mesothelioma(abdominal), pericardial mesothelioma(heart), and pleural mesothelioma (lungs). The latency period for such an asbestos-related disease is usually thirty to forty years, which means you’ll probably see symptoms after 30-40 years of exposure.
According to multiple studies, the risk of developing mesothelioma depends on exposure time, with chances increasing dramatically with time. Furthermore, some medical experts believe that the intensity of exposure usually influences the survival time in patients.
Patients who have mesothelioma will typically experience symptoms such as dry cough, shortness of breath, shoulder pain, and chest pain, to name a few. That said, as cancer spreads to other organs, high-grade fever, weakness, and weight loss might also occur.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung-related illness that leads to scar-like tissue forming on the lungs, also known as pulmonary fibrosis. Due to this, the elasticity of the lungs decreases, leading to breathing difficulties.
During an asbestos diagnosis, your chest X-ray will show small spots in the middle and part of your lungs. Furthermore, your doctor will also perform lung function tests to determine the severity of the disease.
Generally, symptoms include bluish skin coloration, finger clubbing, reduced lung function, chest pain, severe cough, fever and shortness of breath. That said, asbestosis usually requires several years of asbestos exposure to develop.
What’s more, the rate of progression and development of asbestosis varies from one person to another.
The risk of developing lung cancer due to asbestos exposure depends on various factors.
- The duration and level of exposure
- The previous smoking history of the individual that was exposed
- The time since exposure
- The size and type of asbestos particles inhaled
- The age of exposure
That said, the latency period for lung cancer due to asbestos exposure is twenty to thirty years. While lung cancer is caused by long-term asbestos exposure, several studies indicate that as little one to twelve months of exposure can lead to lung cancer later.
Furthermore, symptoms of lung cancer due to asbestos exposure usually show up after the last stages of cancer. These include chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, abrupt weight loss, and chronic cough.
However, your doctor might perform further tests, including X-rays and biopsies, to confirm the diagnosis.
The inhalation of asbestos particles also leads to various abnormalities in the pleural lining of the chest cavity.
That said, most pleural conditions are expected in ten to sixty percent of workers exposed to asbestos at their workplace. What’s more, these issues are also found in family members of workers exposed to asbestos, typically due to workers carrying asbestos particles home through their work clothes.
Furthermore, pleural plaques occur after twenty to thirty years of asbestos exposure. On the other hand, pleural effusions or fluid buildup between the lung membranes typically occur within or after ten years of exposure.
How asbestos harms your body depends on genetics, lung clearance, the type and size of inhaled asbestos particles. However, employees currently working in an asbestos-laden work environment must avoid exposure to this cancerous mineral at all costs.
Some prevention measures include; wearing PPE, following your organization’s health and safety policies, and most importantly, staying miles away from materials that might contain asbestos.
On the other hand, workers exposed in the past must visit an oncologist ASAP. If you were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, contact your employer as you might be eligible for a worker’s compensation.