About this Guide
This guide will help you understand the illnesses asbestos may cause and how to take care of yourself if you have any of those conditions. Caregivers may also find the guide useful.
Asbestos Exposure and Health
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It is made up of fibers that are so small that you cannot see them. Asbestos fibers may be released into the air when asbestos-containing material is disturbed during product use, demolition work, and building or home maintenance, repair, or remodeling. If asbestos fibers are in the air you breathe, you will get asbestos fibers in your lungs. This is the main way that people are exposed to asbestos. Asbestos fibers may remain in the lungs for a lifetime. In some cases, the fibers might damage the lungs or the pleura covering the lungs, leading to illness and even death.
Some people who worked with asbestos years ago are now getting sick. They may have brought asbestos fibers home on their clothes, shoes, and bodies. People who lived in those same households could have been exposed to asbestos, too. Some household members may now be sick because of this exposure.
If you think you might have been exposed to asbestos:
- Tell your doctor. Your doctor may take an exposure history and recommend a thorough physical exam, including a chest x-ray and lung function tests. Your doctor may need a specialist who is experienced in reading x-rays for asbestos-related illness to help interpret the results. Other tests may be necessary.
- Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, quit smoking. Smoking combined with asbestos exposure greatly increases the risk of getting lung cancer.
- Get regular influenza (flu) and pneumonia shots. Regular shots help reduce the chance of lung infections.
Being exposed to asbestos does not mean that you will develop health problems! Many things need to be considered when evaluating whether you are at risk for health problems from asbestos exposure. A doctor can help you find out if you have health problems from asbestos exposure.