What is Asbestos? Why is it Dangerous?
Asbestos was once referred to as the “miracle mineral” because there were virtually no limitations to the ways it could be used. For years, manufacturers used it in everything from clothing to tools. It was also heavily used in construction materials, meaning it can still be found in thousands of buildings and homes all across the country. It’s resistant to heat, electricity, and most chemicals. Unfortunately, it’s also very, very deadly.
In its natural form, asbestos has no taste or smell. It’s made up of long fibers which, when inhaled, can become stuck in the lining of the lungs, leading to several diseases such as mesothelioma.
While the use of asbestos in certain products hasn’t been banned outright, it has been halted in some, and regulations have been put in place to protect the public from its effects. Other regulations have been enacted to help educate and inform the public about manufacturers that continue to use the substance in their products.
Asbestos-Related Illnesses and Their Symptoms
Those who work around asbestos or have otherwise prolonged exposure to it are at risk of developing several diseases. In addition, studies have shown that prolonged exposure can increase a person’s risk of developing diseases which are typically unrelated to asbestos, such as ovarian cancer. Below is a list of some of the most typical diseases caused by asbestos, as well as their symptoms.
Asbestosis refers to scarring of the connective tissue inside the lungs, caused by excessive inhalation of asbestos fibers. Symptoms of asbestosis include difficulty swallowing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that can develop in the layer of tissue surrounding the lungs, abdomen, or the heart. Symptoms can include weight loss, anemia, coughing, shortness of breath, a buildup of fluid in the lungs and abdomen, and chest pain. It is important to remember that, while still a form of cancer, mesothelioma is not considered lung cancer because it does not originate inside the lungs.
Lung cancer is formed when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged in lung tissue. A key difference between lung cancer and mesothelioma is that, as it becomes more advanced, lung cancer will spread to other parts of the body, such as the other lung, bones, and liver. While mesothelioma can also spread, it does so infrequently. Symptoms include chest pain, lingering cough, trouble breathing, or coughing up blood.
These are glasslike fibers that have built-up in the parietal pleura, or the membrane attached to the inner surface of one’s chest cavity. In most cases, it takes twenty or more years before these deposits become visible, although they can manifest in less than 10 years. Pleural plaques are non-malignant, and the most common result of asbestos exposure. While there are typically no symptoms associated with pleural plaques, some have complained of pained breathing.
It can take decades before symptoms stemming from asbestos-related illnesses fully manifest themselves. If you believe you’re beginning to exhibit signs of an asbestos-related illness, or if you have reason to believe that you may develop an asbestos-related illness in the future, it’s important that you see a doctor.
How Asbestos Exposure Occurs
Because asbestos was so widely used for years before its negative health effects were fully understood, there are many ways in which someone can come into contact with it. Those who worked in manufacturing, or industries such as mining or construction, especially in the 1970s or before, are at particular risk.
Other professions at risk include:
- Auto mechanics
- Oil refinery workers
- Shipyard workers
See more about jobs with high asbestos exposure.
Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was prevalent in many different construction materials, so it’s possible individuals can be exposed to it in their day-to-day activities. Asbestos is often found in:
- Roofing materials, such as shingles
- Ceiling tiles
- Insulation, especially around pipes and ducts
- Drywall spackle
See more about products containing asbestos.
When to See a Doctor
As noted before, if you believe you are at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. A complete diagnosis will be able to determine what negative health effects you are suffering from, if any, and what the best course forward will be. Remember, many asbestos-related illnesses aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late, because asbestos exposure early symptoms can seem small and easy to ignore. Seeing a doctor now will allow you to create an asbestos exposure treatment plan that can potentially prevent larger health problems from forming in the future.