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Asbestos Exposure Symptoms

Asbestos is used for its heat resistance, flame retardant and insulating properties, and for soundproofing. Exposure to this mineral can be harmful to your health. Its effects on the body depend on the period and amount of exposure and the type of asbestos-related diseases that one develops. Read on to know its symptoms.
Chandramita Bora
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals having thin, fibrous crystals. Asbestos is basically a set of silicate minerals and it has been used in a wide range of industries in the past. It is mainly used for its heat resistance, flame retardant and insulating properties and for soundproofing. However, inhalation of asbestos fiber can pose some serious health risks to humans. Prolonged exposure to excessive asbestos can lead to serious conditions like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. The symptoms of these conditions however develop gradually over a period of time. These symptoms can be a bit hard to recognize, as they can imitate the symptoms of certain other health problems.
Exposure to Asbestos
Risks Involved
Asbestos was once widely used in construction materials, and is being used in fire-proofing materials, cement, floor and ceiling tiles and insulation boards. People working in industries that produce and use asbestos such as mining and milling industries are at a greater risk. People who work or have worked in construction, shipyard, factory, mines, oil and power generation industries, railroad and building industries are also exposed to its symptoms. Maintenance workers, metalworkers and electrician too can get exposed to asbestos. The family members of people working in the sectors that produce, use or handle asbestos can also get exposed to its fiber, as such workers may bring asbestos fibers to their home on their clothing or equipment. Getting exposed to this mineral at home is also possible, as it can be found in some construction materials like, roofing materials, insulation products, cement pipes and siding, etc.
Asbestos Exposure Signs
The symptoms develop slowly over a period of time. Exposure to high levels of asbestos for a long time can cause three types of diseases―asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. The symptoms of these diseases may not be evident for years, i.e., it may take years to develop these symptoms. Generally, it takes 20 to 40 years for its signs to appear from the time of getting exposed to asbestos.
Short-term exposure to asbestos can produce symptoms like, shortness of breath. A person can get exposed to asbestos for a brief period even if he or she does not work in an industry or a sector, where asbestos is produced or used. As for example, one can inhale a small amount of asbestos fibers for a brief period during renovating his or her old house. In such cases, one can experience the symptoms like abdominal pain, chest pain and irritation of the skin and the mucous membrane, along with shortness of breath.
One can also experience several other symptoms due to long-term exposure to asbestos. These symptoms can vary from one individual to another depending on the period and the amount of exposure. They also depend on the type of asbestos-related diseases that one develops. Nevertheless, the most common signs are:

Shortness of breath
Chronic cough
Chest pain
Chest tightness
Loss of appetite
A crackling sound in the lungs during inhalation
Unexplained weight loss
Coughing up blood
Cyanosis or bluish discoloration of the lips and fingers
Clubbing of fingers and toes
The symptoms which are observed in the case of asbestosis are:

Shortness of breath
Chest pain
Chronic cough
Breathing problem
Difficulty with physical exertion
Mesothelioma affects the membranes of the chest and abdomen, and accordingly it could lead to pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma. The signs of pleural mesothelioma are:

Chest pain
Persistent cough
Shortness of breath
Chest tightness
Weight loss
The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma are:

Swelling of the abdominal cavity
Weight loss
Night sweats
Bowel obstruction
Rarely, mesothelioma can affect the pericardial lining of the heart, in which case symptoms like heart palpitation, persistent cough, and unusual fatigue on physical exertion can be observed along with shortness of breath and chest pain. Lung cancer, on the other hand, can produce symptoms like dry cough, lung infections, chest pain, and blood mixed with sputum.
If you observe any of these symptoms, it is better to contact your physician to rule out the possibility of asbestos-related diseases and lung diseases. With a detailed study regarding the medical and occupational history of the patient and diagnostic procedures like chest X-ray, CT scans, pulmonary function test, and bronchoscopy or biopsy, physicians can determine the underlying causes of such symptoms. Early diagnosis can ensure prompt treatment, which in turn can help to slow down the progression of these diseases.