Asbestos is present in a variety of products and buildings. If left undisturbed, it’s not harmful to health. But, it can cause very severe diseases if you inhale asbestos particles.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a silicate mineral that can be separated into fibers. The asbestos fibers are very durable, flexible, and strong. These long, thin fibers are also resistant to fire and heat. It appears in three main forms – brown (amosite), blue (crocidolite), and white (chrysotile). Each of these three types is dangerous to health.
Where does asbestos appear?
Use of asbestos has been significantly reduced in the recent decades. This fibrous mineral has been used in various building, industrial, and consumer products. Besides, asbestos was used in automotive and maritime industry as well. It was even used for scientific purposes. Thus, it was used in:
- Flue and drainage pipes
- Cement sheetings
- Clutches, brakes, and gaskets
- Flexible, guttering, and roofing building boards
- Acoustic and thermal insulation
- Fire-protecting structural steel
- Some textured coatings and paints
- Flat asbestos sheets
- Asbestos cement
Who makes a risk group?
People who have worked with products that contain asbestos are more likely to experience health effects. This is especially true if they were frequently exposed to asbestos for long periods of time. In general, those are people who have worked in the asbestos milling or mining industry. Those jobs involve installing or making asbestos products. The asbestos fibers get released from the processes involved in those jobs. They can also appear from workers’ clothes, so even the families of those workers can be affected.
What are the health effects?
Unsafe, long-term asbestos exposure is proven to have the harmful effect on human health. Once the asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become permanently captured in the lungs. There’s no way to remove these hazardous fibers from lungs. They get in the lower lung regions and cause various lung diseases. The most common health effect is asbestosis (fibrotic lung disease). They can also cause changes in pleura – the lining of the chest cavity. Long-term exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma and other lung cancers. These illnesses reduce respiratory function and can result in death. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the asbestos-related diseases yet.
When asbestos particles reach the lungs, they can form a scar-like tissue. This chronic lung disease is known as asbestosis. The formed tissue causes difficulty breathing by decreasing the elasticity of the lungs. The most common symptom of this illness is shortness of breath.
Asbestos exposure increases the risk of getting lung cancer. Latency period is quite long. The lung cancer usually starts developing 20-30 years after asbestos exposure. Even the short-term exposures of a few months can lead to lung cancer.
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer that develops in mesothelial tissues. There are three main types of this disease:
- Pleural (lung) mesothelioma – the most common type
- Peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma, and
- Pericardial (heart) mesothelioma – the rarest form.
Besides these 3 major types, mesothelioma can appear in testicles as well. Though, this is a very rare case.
Latency period of this aggressive cancer is generally 20-50 years. The outcome is usually fatal, as there is no cure for this severe illness. For more info on how asbestos exposure affects mesothelioma cancer, click MesotheliomaHelp.org.
There are also many indirect effects related to asbestos exposure. The increased blood flow resistance through the lungs can lead to heart enlargement. Asbestos can also cause various laryngeal and immune system effects.
As you can see, the health effects take a lot of time to develop. Asbestos-related diseases emerge at least ten years after exposure. The symptoms of these diseases are very similar to other health disorders. That makes them hard to diagnose, so many people detect them at an advanced stage. Sadly, then it may be too late.