The Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure and the Diseases Causing Them

From being a widely-used and celebrated insulating and fireproofing material in construction, the use of asbestos  — due to its severe health-risks — has mostly been reduced.

However, it’s still present in many old buildings, especially those built before the mid 1980s but through the 1960s and 1970s. When contained and sealed behind structures preventing the spread of asbestos fibres, its presence isn’t necessarily a problem.

But as buildings age, the integrity of the walls and structures containing those asbestos fibres drops and, in turn, the chances of asbestos exposure increase. With this increased chance of exposure comes the increased risk of dangerous diseases, including cancer.

Below, we look at the top symptoms of these diseases and the diseases causing them:

There Are No Immediate Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure


symptoms of asbestos exposure


Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure Take Years to Develop

There’s no doubt that asbestos exposure is dangerous. However, it can take years — potentially decades — for symptoms of asbestos-induced diseases to manifest.

In fact, this is a significant reason why asbestos is so dangerous — health problems do not appear right away, but emerge after a long period of time through terminal lung disease and cancer.

You Can Carry Asbestos Fibers Between Home and Work

Some asbestos fibres are highly friable materials. This basically means that the asbestos can be grounded, crumbled, powdered or pulverized when dry and turned into small fibres that can easily be inhaled into the body.

Long-term exposure to friable asbestos, especially over a period of decades, can result in many asbestos-induced diseases, not the least of which being lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Although the exposure period is long-term, it must be noted that asbestos material can readily accompany you between work and home. These fibres are not visible with the naked eye, so they are easy to miss and, in turn, can find their way onto clothes and/or shoes.

Thus, you could force yourself as well as those you accompany for long periods of time — such as coworkers, family, and friends — with asbestos exposure over a period of years.

Short-Term Symptoms of Asbestosis

Pleural Effusion (1 Year)

Of asbestos-induced diseases, pleural effusion is considered the fastest one to manifest through sustained asbestos exposure. Pleural effusion is the build-up of fluid between the two protective layers — i.e. pleura coating — over your lungs. It can manifest in about a year.

Asbestos causes exudative pleural effusion.

In of itself, pleural effusion is not fatal. Common problems caused by pleural effusion is difficulty in terms of breathing, pain or extreme discomfort. Symptoms include the emergence of fever, coughing and hiccups, chest pain, shortness of breath and/or rapid breathing.

That said, it must be noted that pleural effusion can be a symptom of some form of cancer, and in terms of asbestos exposure, that includes mesothelioma.



Asbestosis (7 Years)

Asbestosis is an asbestos-caused lung disease. Generally, it doesn’t materialize until at least 10 years of sustained asbestos exposure. However, asbestosis symptoms can materialize as early as seven years of exposure.

Major signs of asbestosis are scars on your lung tissue, causing severe breathing problems. In terms of other symptoms, you can experience continuous dry coughing, weight loss, clubbing in the fingertips and toes (i.e. they’ll seem bigger than normal) and chest pain.

However, as with asbestos-caused diseases in general, asbestosis generally manifests over a long-term period, potentially several decades in some cases.

Long-Term Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure

Not only do most asbestos-caused diseases materialize over the long-term — i.e. 10-50 years of sustained asbestos-exposure — but they are difficult to treat, if not fatal. In fact, cancers resulting from asbestos could take decades to develop, but they can spread and worsen in only months.

Learn More About Asbestos Removal Policy:

Pleural Plaques (20-30 Years)

In terms of asbestosis diagnosis, the presence of pleural plaques is considered the most common sign of major, long-term asbestos exposure.

Fortunately, pleural plaques — while a disease — is not fatal and will not develop into cancers. However, its symptoms include difficulty in breathing and major discomfort wherever these plaques develop.

That said, while pleural plaques in of themselves aren’t cancerous, the fact that they’re present — and indicate long-term asbestos exposure — could serve as a potential indicator for cancer.

Lung Cancer (20-35 Years)

Inhaling asbestos fibres over the long-term causes irritation, inflammation and damage to lung tissue and, in time, create cancerous tumours. Lung cancer is — along with mesothelioma — a common disease caused by asbestos.

Common symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, chest pain and the coughing of blood. Likewise, continuous coughing, swelling in the face and neck, and respiratory infections have also been associated with the onset of lung cancer.

Mesothelioma (20-50 Years)

Where lung cancer affects the lung directly, mesothelioma can develop in the lining of your lung (and, potentially, the lining of your abdomen, heart and/or testes).

Unlike lung cancer, which will form as individual tumours in specific areas, mesothelioma will spread around the organ and, in time, cover it with a “sheath-like tumour around the organ.”

Mesothelioma is exclusively a result of asbestosis and, generally speaking, takes the longest (i.e.  20-50 years) to develop through long-term asbestos exposure. However, physicians will look for symptoms of asbestos in the lungs, just as they would for lung cancer.

Survival Rate for Asbestos-Caused Cancers

survival rates

Likewise, mesothelioma and lung cancer have similar symptoms, but the survival rate of the former is lower, especially after a gap between its emergence and diagnosis.

One of the biggest challenges with diagnosing asbestos-causing diseases is that it happens too late. This is because it takes years — if not decades — for asbestos-caused diseases to develop in the body, with symptoms often occurring rapidly alongside the spread of the disease.

Learn About The Costs Of Asbestos Removal:

For large-scale or commercial property owners, the best way to manage the fall-out of asbestos and its health-impacts is to have it removed. However, asbestos abatement is not a simple task, it requires significant expertise and experience.

FERRO Environmental is equipped to determine the extent of your asbestos issue and properly implement asbestos removal projects, including large-scale Type 2 and Type 3 operations. Get in touch with an environmental contractor today to get started with your environmental remediation services.

asbestos exposure symptoms