Asbestos-related lung diseases are diseases caused by exposure to asbestos (as-BES-tos) fibers. Asbestos is a mineral that, in the past, was widely used in many industries.
Asbestos is made up of tiny fibers that can escape into the air. When breathed in, these fibers can stay in your lungs for a long time. If the fibers build up in your lungs, they can lead to:
Asbestos also can cause cancer in the lining of the abdominal cavity. This lining is known as the peritoneum (PER-ih-to-NE-um).
Until the 1970s, asbestos was widely used in many industries in the United States. For example, it was used to insulate pipes, boilers, and ships; make brakes; strengthen cement; and fireproof many items, such as drywall.
People who worked around asbestos during that time are at risk for asbestos-related lung diseases. People at highest risk include:
Asbestos fibers also can be released into the air when older buildings containing asbestos-made products are destroyed. Removing these products during building renovations also can release asbestos fibers into the air.
Generally, being around asbestos-made products isn’t a danger as long as the asbestos is enclosed. This prevents the fibers from getting into the air.
People in the United States are less likely to have asbestos-related lung diseases now because the mineral is no longer widely used.
The use of asbestos is heavily restricted, and rules and standards are now in place to protect workers and others from asbestos exposure. Asbestos is found in only a few new products, such as gaskets used in brakes.
However, many countries do not yet restrict asbestos use. People in those countries are still exposed to the mineral.
The outlook for people who have asbestos-related lung diseases can vary. It will depend on which disease a person has and how much it has damaged the lungs.
No treatments can reverse the effects of asbestos on your lungs. However, treatments may help relieve symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and prevent complications.
If you've been exposed to asbestos, let your doctor know. He or she can watch you for signs of asbestos-related problems and start treatment early, if needed. Early treatment may help prevent or delay complications.
Quitting smoking and making other lifestyle changes may help people who are at high risk for asbestos-related lung diseases. These lifestyle changes may prevent more serious diseases, such as cancer.
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