Asbestosis – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Asbestosis (as-bes-TOE-sis) is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged exposure to these fibers can cause lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath. Asbestosis symptoms can range from mild to severe, and usually don’t appear until many years after initial exposure.

About Asbestosis

Chronic (long-term) lung disease known as asbestosis is brought on by repeated exposure to asbestos. A group of minerals comprised of tiny fibers is collectively referred to as asbestos. It was frequently employed in building in the past.

Using asbestos can be extremely risky. Undisturbed asbestos-containing material does not provide a health danger, but if it is chipped, drilled, damaged, or allowed to decay, it may emit fine dust containing asbestos fibers.

Asbestos fibers enter the lungs through inhalation of dust and can cause gradual lung damage over time. The development of asbestosis requires continuous exposure to a significant quantity of fibers. Despite widespread exposure, many people do not develop asbestosis, therefore this is not the primary reason.

Explore the causes of asbestosis in more detail.

Symptoms of asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos fibres may eventually scar the lungs of some people, which can lead to a number of symptoms, including:

  • shortness of breath – this may only occur after physical activity at first, but it can eventually become a more constant problem
  • a persistent cough
  • wheezing
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • chest pain
  • in more advanced cases, clubbed (swollen) fingertips

Most persons with asbestosis today were exposed decades ago, before there were reliable safeguards against occupational exposure to asbestos fibres.

If you experience the aforementioned symptoms and believe you may have previously been exposed to asbestos, consult your doctor.

Learn more about asbestosis diagnosis.

Treating asbestosis

Asbestosis cannot be cured once it has developed because the harm to the lungs cannot be undone.

If a person has the illness and smokes, one of the most crucial things they can do is quit. This is due to the fact that smoking raises the risk of lung cancer in those with asbestosis and also makes it more likely for symptoms to worsen.

If necessary, therapies like oxygen therapy can enhance a person with asbestosis’ quality of life.

Learn more about asbestosis treatment.


Depending on the degree of lung damage and the presence of other illnesses, the prognosis for asbestosis might vary greatly.

Although severe cases of asbestosis can lower a person’s life expectancy and cause serious health problems over time, the ailment frequently worsens extremely slowly or never at all.

However, those who have asbestosis are more likely to experience additional severe and perhaps fatal illnesses, such as:

  • pleural disease – where the membrane covering the lungs (pleura) becomes thicker, which can further contribute to breathlessness and chest discomfort
  • mesothelioma – a type of cancer that affects the membrane that covers the lungs, heart and gut
  • lung cancer

Overall, more people with asbestosis die as a result of one of the cancers mentioned above, or from natural causes, than from asbestosis itself.


If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to claim compensation. This can be done through:

  • Industrial injuries disablement benefit – this is a weekly benefit that may be paid to people with asbestosis who were exposed to asbestos while in employment (but not self-employed)
  • A civil claim for compensation through the courts – you will need to obtain legal advice about how to do this
  • A claim for a lump compensation sum under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 – if you have asbestosis, or you are the dependent of someone who has died from the condition, and you haven’t been able to get compensation through the courts because the employer who exposed you (or the person on whose behalf you are claiming) has ceased trading.

Read more about industrial injuries disablement benefit on the GOV.UK website

Preventing asbestosis

Three different forms of asbestos were primarily employed in building. The usage of the third type, chrysotile, was widely outlawed in 1999. The first two of these, known as crocidolite and amosite, were outlawed in 1985 (although voluntary prohibitions entered into effect earlier than this).

However, despite the fact that these stringent guidelines have been in place for a while, many older structures still contain significant amounts of asbestos.

Therefore, if you live or work in a structure that may contain asbestos, you should take precautions to lower your risk of breathing asbestos fibres.

Consult an environmental health officer at your local authority or council if you’re worried that your home contains asbestos. If you suspect that a material contains asbestos, don’t try to remove it yourself.

Make sure you are completely aware of the steps you may take to lower your risk if your job puts you at risk of asbestos fibre exposure. If you come across any asbestos, do not attempt to remove it unless you have received training on how to do so properly.

Read about preventing asbestosis.

Who is affected

Due to the high level of exposure required to induce asbestosis and the long history of rules limiting exposure, asbestosis is a very uncommon condition.

A total of 429 deaths were attributed to asbestosis in 2011, although 178 of these were directly related to the disease. In 2012, 980 new cases were evaluated for the industrial injuries disablement benefit.

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