Asbestosis is a serious long-term lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a whitish material that was used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing in the past, but is now no longer used. While asbestos can be dangerous, it doesn't present a health risk if left undisturbed. But if material containing asbestos is damaged, it can release a fine dust that contains asbestos fibres. When the dust is breathed in, the asbestos fibres enter the lungs and can gradually damage them over time. But you would need prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres, usually over many years, before you develop asbestosis
Am I at risk?
You may have been exposed to asbestos if you worked in an industry such as building or construction, particularly in the 1970s-90s.
Now that asbestos is no longer used, those most at risk of being exposed to asbestos include people whose jobs put them at risk of damaging any asbestos remaining in old buildings, such as electricians and demolition workers.
For more information on who could be at risk, read Health and Safety Executive (HSE): am I at risk?
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have the symptoms above and think you may have been exposed to asbestos. Your GP will listen to your lungs and ask about your work history. They may refer you to a specialist in lung diseases for more tests if asbestosis is suspected.
Tests may include:
lung function tests to see how well your lungs are working
There's no cure for asbestosis once it has developed, as it's not possible to reverse the damage to the lungs.
But there are some treatments that can help, such as:
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – a program of exercise sessions, discussion and advice to help you manage your symptoms
- Oxygen therapy – breathing in oxygen-rich air from a machine or tank to help improve breathlessness if your blood oxygen levels are low
It's also important that you: