Asbestos is a mineral that is found naturally in rocks and soil. Until the 1970s, when it was discovered that asbestos increased the risk for lung disease, it was widely used in many industries in the United States. For example, asbestos was used to fireproof drywall, insulate pipes, and strengthen cement. People who work or used to work around asbestos are at risk for asbestos-related lung diseases, as are their family members.
Asbestos fibers are very thin and can escape into the air. When you breathe in, they can get stuck deep in your lungs. The fibers remain in your lung tissue for a long time and may cause scarring and inflammation. This can lead to several types of asbestos-related lung diseases and lung problems, including:
Signs and symptoms of asbestos-related lung diseases vary depending on which type of disease you have and how much it has damaged your lungs. You may have shortness of breath or a chronic cough. It may take 10 to 40 or more years after exposure to asbestos for signs or symptoms to appear. Your doctor will diagnose an asbestos-related lung disease based on your past exposure to asbestos, your symptoms, a physical exam, and results of tests such as a chest X-ray or chest CT scan.
Tell your doctor if you think you may have been exposed to asbestos. Your doctor can watch for symptoms or complications and start treatment early, depending on the type of asbestos-related lung disease you have. No treatment can reverse the effects of asbestos on your lungs. However, treatments may help relieve symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, prevent complications, and help you live longer. If you have shortness of breath or other problems breathing, and oxygen levels in your blood are too low, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy. If you have lung cancer or mesothelioma, you may receive chemotherapy or surgery.
If you have an asbestos-related lung disease, you will need lifelong care, including regular chest X-rays, chest CT scans, and pulmonary function tests. If you smoke, find support to help you quit. Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer if you have been exposed to asbestos.
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Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people with asbestos-related lung diseases. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing lung disease scientific discovery.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing asbestos-related lung diseases research in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about asbestos-related lung diseases.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.