Restrictions on the use of asbestos in building materials have helped to decrease the incidence of diseases associated with exposure. Nevertheless, older structures may still contain asbestos. This means that there is still a risk of exposure, especially for people who work in professions such as construction or as first responders.
Furthermore, many diseases related to asbestos take decades to develop. Therefore, if the exposure took place years ago, people may only be experiencing symptoms now. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute describes some of the conditions that are likely to result from asbestos exposure.
1. Pleural effusion
There are two layers of tissue that surround and support the lungs. The outer layer, which connects to the wall of the chest, is the parietal pleura, and the inner layer, which lies directly over the lungs, is the visceral pleura. A pleural effusion occurs when fluid collects in the space between the two layers, making it more difficult for the lungs to expand.
When a person breathes asbestos fibers into the lungs, they stay in the lungs indefinitely as the body lacks a mechanism to expel them. They irritate the tissues of the lungs, which causes scar tissue over time. The stiffness of the scar tissue prevents the lungs from working efficiently.
Contrary to what many people believe, mesothelioma is not lung cancer. Rather, it is a cancer of the pleura that surround the lungs. The two layers of pleura together make up the mesothelium. Mesothelioma can result in respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing. It is an aggressive cancer that can be difficult to treat and often causes death.
Though distinct from mesothelioma, lung cancer can also result from exposure to asbestos because it is a carcinogen.