Asbestosis is a respiratory disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestosis is one form of lung disease related to asbestos inhalation. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause a variety of diseases, from thickening of the lining of the lungs, which is usually asymptomatic, to malignant mesothelioma (a cancer arising from the lining of the lung).

Alternative Names

Pulmonary fibrosis - from asbestos exposure; Idiopathic interstitial pneumonitis - from asbestos exposure

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract (elasticity) normally. The severity of the respiratory disease depends upon the duration of exposure and the amount inhaled. Asbestos fibers were commonly used in construction before 1975. Asbestos exposure occurs from asbestos mining and milling industries, construction, fireproofing, and other industries. In families of asbestos workers, exposure can also occur from particles brought home in the worker's clothing. Asbestos-related disease includes pleural plaques (calcification), malignant (cancerous) tumor called mesotheliomas--see mesothelioma (malignant) , and pleural effusion . Mesotheliomas may develop 20 to 40 years after exposure. More than 9 million workers are at risk of developing this disease. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing the disease. The incidence is 4 out of 10,000 people.

Signs and tests

  • Listening to the chest with a stethoscope (
  • auscultation ) reveals a crackling sound. These tests also help diagnose the disease:
  • a
  • chest X-ray
  • pulmonary function tests
  • a
  • CT scan of the lungs This disease may also alter the results of the following test:
  • ACE levels
  • Treatment

  • There is no cure available. Stopping further exposure to asbestos is indicated. Supportive treatment of symptoms includes
  • respiratory treatments to remove secretions from the lungs by postural drainage, chest percussion , and vibration. Aerosol medications to thin secretions may be prescribed. Oxygen by mask or by a plastic piece that fits into the nostrils (cannula) may be needed.

    Support groups

    The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems. See lung disease - support group .

    Expectations (prognosis)

    The outcome depends upon the duration and extent of the exposure; mesotheliomas have a poor prognosis (probable outcome) with 75% of those affected dying within 1 year.


  • mesothelioma (malignant)
  • pleural effusion
  • Calling your health care provider

  • Call for an appointment with your health care provider if exposure to asbestos is suspected or if unexplained symptoms occur.
  • Prevention

    Early screening by chest X-ray of people who are exposed to asbestos.

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