Asbestos is a fibrous rock that is found in nature. Until 1999, it was found in many homes and other buildings. Three types of asbestos exist, which are blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile). Asbestos has fantastic insulating properties, protects against corrosion, and is a fire retardant. That is why it is found in many common products, like sprayed coatings, boilers, pipe insulation, and ceiling tiles. Between the 1950s and 1980s, it was used almost everywhere, which didn’t truly stop until 1999.

The problem, however, is that when asbestos fibers become airborne, they present a real danger to health. The particles can become airborne when the asbestos is broken, for instance, because of drilling or cutting through it. The more fibers you inhale, the bigger the chance that you will develop one of the asbestos illnesses. Unfortunately, even the smallest amount of exposure can pose a danger. So what are the diseases related to asbestos?

1. Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer. It usually starts in the lining of the lungs, although some people first develop it in the abdomen, which is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestos is one of the main causes of mesothelioma. The condition is almost always terminal. Scientific studies are currently being conducted on mesothelioma, and outcomes are starting to improve.

“Mesothelioma is a rare, asbestos-related cancer that forms on the protective lining of certain parts of the body, most commonly the lungs or abdomen. Symptoms, treatment and survival rates vary depending on the cancer’s location and other important factors. Learning key statistics about mesothelioma can help you better understand the disease and make more educated decisions about your health.”

Mesothelioma is almost always caused by swallowing or inhaling asbestos fibers that have become airborne. The most common type of mesothelioma is ‘pleural mesothelioma’, which is the type that affects the lungs, and it is estimated that between 2% and 10% of people who work with asbestos will develop it. Between 1940 and 1978, some 11 million people experienced asbestos exposure. If the statistics are right, around one million of them will develop mesothelioma. Unfortunately, those statistics are currently proving to be true.

2. Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a long term, chronic condition of the lungs caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. When people breathe in asbestos dust and the associated fibers, these will start to damage the tissues of the lungs. Asbestosis usually only develops in cases where there has been severe and prolonged exposure to asbestos dust. However, other factors are also important, as there are plenty of people who have had prolonged, heavy exposure, but who do not develop asbestosis. Most people don’t know that they have asbestosis, until they start to notice that they run out of breath more quickly than before.

“Patients exhibit dry inspiratory crackles, which are clicking or rattling noises made by the lungs during inhalation, and “clubbing” of the fingers, which may include softening of the fingernail beds, bulging of the end of the finger(s) and misshapen nails – all caused by a decrease of oxygenated blood flow to the extremities.”

Those who have asbestosis are eight to ten times more likely to also develop lung cancer. Interestingly, those with lung cancer experience similar symptoms to those with asbestosis. The difference is that fibrosis in the lower lung lobes is always present in cases of asbestos. Usually, there is also evidence of plaque formation in the parietal pleura.

3. Asbestos-Related Diseases

Besides asbestosis and mesothelioma, other diseases are also associated with asbestos exposure. This includes lung cancer, pleural plaques, and diffuse pleural thickening. Additionally, it is believed that asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing other conditions as well.

“Studies have linked more than a dozen different diseases to asbestos exposure. Many of these diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, have a confirmed relationship with the toxic mineral. Others, such as COPD and kidney cancer, are not directly caused by asbestos, but researchers suspect that exposure can increase a person’s risk for developing them.”

Most asbestos-related diseases affect the lungs. However, they may also affect the ovaries, larynx, throat, kidneys, gallbladder, and esophagus. Additionally, it is associated with a number of benign conditions as well, including pleural effusions, pleural plaques, and pleuritis. Conditions such as atelactasis and COPD are also associated with asbestos exposure.

Asbestos has wreaked havoc among the human population, and particularly construction workers. Although it was long known that asbestos was a dangerous substance if disturbed, its use in construction continued until 1999. Each year, new cases of the various illnesses associated with asbestos exposure continue to be reported. Furthermore, there are believed to be many cases of diseases such as lung cancer and COPD that are caused by asbestos exposure, but that are not attributed to it, for instance, if the patient is a smoker.