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What Happens When Exposed to Asbestos?

What Happens When Exposed to Asbestos

Let’s face it, most of us have been exposed to asbestos in our lives without even realizing it. All the talk about its link to mesothelioma in the media has made us fearful. It has us asking what happens when exposed to asbestos? And if I was exposed, will I get cancer for sure? Just to ease your mind before reading on, the answer to that last question is no.

What is Asbestos?

What is scary about asbestos is that it can be found in so many places. Because of its fireproof qualities, it was used in the construction of many buildings. It is banned now, but unfortunately, many of us could be breathing it every day without even knowing.

In nature, asbestos is found in rocks and soil, but for many years before it was prohibited, we have used it in many products such as:

  • Insulation in walls of houses and buildings
  • Roof shingles
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Hot water pipe protector
  • Siding
  • Brakes on cars
  • Heat resistant clothing

B E Plant Hire, a Brisbane asbestos removal and demolition company, tells us that when older buildings are being demolished, it is common for asbestos to become airborne. When we destroy materials that contain asbestos, that is when we are more likely to breathe them in and potentially develop mesothelioma or other health problems.

If you would like to see what asbestos looks like and the products that we are exposed to that may contain it, I found this video to be very helpful. It really shows all the places where asbestos can be found.

How Much Exposure to Asbestos is Too Much?

That is the question on everyone’s mind. Will I get cancer if I was just exposed once? My answer is most likely not. According to the National Cancer Institute, we have all been exposed to asbestos, so being exposed once will not cause mesothelioma.

Other than mesothelioma, there are other health risks with relation to exposure to asbestos such as lung or throat cancer, increased fluid in the lungs, and asbestosis.

Asbestosis is an inflammation of the lungs that will cause wheezing, shortness or breath, dry cough, and can also cause long-term damage to the lungs.

Those who have experience health problems with relation to asbestos were usually exposed to it in the workplace. Some examples of industries where workers have had prolonged exposure to asbestos are:

  • Asbestos mining and milling
  • Manufacturing companies that used asbestos in their products
  • Shipbuilders
  • Construction workers
  • Those who do demolition or who remove asbestos
  • Firefighters
  • Automotive mechanics

Others at risk of dangerous exposure to asbestos are those who worked as part of the rescue and clean-up crews after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

According to a study by Mount Sinai School of Medicine, those involved in the rescue and clean-up crew have had negative health effects due to many airborne particles. When the study was done, not enough time had passed to be able to say whether they were at risk for mesothelioma but those exposed will need to be monitored closely for signs and symptoms.

The amount of exposure that causes problems with regards to asbestos is hard to pinpoint. One thing that is clear is that longer and more concentrated asbestos exposure has a greater risk of future health problems. Some symptoms of health issues related to asbestos can take from 10 to 40 years after the exposure to appear.

What Are the Symptoms of Mesothelioma?

The symptoms that first appear are symptoms that are common to other lung ailments. Because of this, it is common for people to just shrug off the symptoms as being related to something that is not life-threatening.

If you believe you have had significant exposure to asbestos, here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest, abdomen or back area
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Night sweats or fever
  • Fluid surrounding the lungs
  • Feeling tired
  • Losing weight not related to something else
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you feel that you may have symptoms of mesothelioma, it is best to see your physician. They will be able to perform chest x-rays to determine if there are any issues with your lungs. If asbestos in the lungs is highly suspected, they will also do a bronchoscopy or a biopsy to determine if there has been exposure.

How to Protect Yourself from Asbestos in the Workplace?

First, if possible avoid working around asbestos. If you are not trained in asbestos removal, leave that to the professionals. If you work in an industry that you may find asbestos, do not try to get rid of it yourself.