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Asbestos exposure

Asbestos exposure

If you are worried that you have been in contact with asbestos, it’s important to report the details of any asbestos exposure symptoms to your doctor immediately.

These minerals made of microscopic fibres can be present in the workplace and even at home. Prolonged asbestos exposure or exposure to high amounts can be the cause of long term respiratory conditions and cancers. However, it’s important to understand that exposure does not necessarily always lead to health complications.

Most commonly, asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the chest and abdomen linings. It has also been shown to cause cancers of the lung, larynx and ovary. Other nonmalignant conditions caused by asbestos exposure are asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural thickening and benign pleural effusions.

Evidence has shown that health risks from asbestos increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time; however, asbestos-related diseases have also occurred in those with brief exposure.

Asbestos exposure symptoms

If you have been exposed to asbestos (or you suspect you have), you should inform your doctor about the details of the exposure, and if you experience any symptoms. Individuals may not show signs of illness for up to 40 years, so it is important to monitor your health and seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A persistent cough that gets worse over time
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing up blood
  • A tight or painful chest
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the neck or face
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

Conditions related to asbestos exposure


Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs, and in some cases the lining of the stomach, heart and testicles. This cancer typically develops more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.


Asbestosis is an inflammatory condition of the lungs which can cause respiratory problems, and can increase the risk of other serious conditions linked to asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma. Currently, there is no cure for asbestosis, but there are treatments to help relieve symptoms.

Pleural disorders

These are nonmalignant disorders that affect the lining of the surface of the lungs and the chest wall. These include pleural plaques (an accumulation of a chalky-like material in the membranes surrounding the lung), pleural thickening (a thickening of the membranes due to scarring), and pleural effusion (an abnormal amount of fluid around the lung).

Investigations & tests for asbestos exposure

We can offer in-depth investigations into respiratory conditions relating to asbestos exposure, including an innovative pleural service to diagnose pleural disorders, and a lung function testing service (performed in-house or at your home or workplace). 99% of patients are diagnosed and treated effectively within a week from presentation in the clinic.

  • Physical examination
  • CT scan
  • Lung biopsy

Find out more about investigations.

Treatment for asbestos exposure

The treatment required for asbestos exposure-related conditions depends on a number of factors, including the identification of the condition(s) found during the investigations, how far the condition has advanced, and your general health.

Treatment for mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, which means that treatment is usually centred on prolonging the patient’s life and managing the symptoms. Possible treatments for mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery to remove cancerous cells.

Treatment for asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed, but there are treatments which can help restore a better quality of life. These include pulmonary rehabilitation (a physical exercise programme and information to help the patient manage the condition themselves), oxygen therapy (breathing in oxygen rich air from a tank to increase levels of oxygen in the blood), and an inhaler if symptoms are mild.

Treatment for pleural disorders

Pleural plaque is unlikely to require treatment, as it does not usually have any symptoms, nor lead to other complications. Pleural thickening cannot be cured, but it generally does not pose a threat to life. Treatments include medications such as bronchodilators, steroids and painkillers; pulmonary rehabilitation; and oxygen therapy. Pleural effusion (water on the lungs) can be alleviated by regularly removing the fluid build-up, but other treatments can be sought to try to prevent the build-up of fluid in the first place, including pleurodesis and inserting an indwelling pleural catheter.

Book your consultation

To arrange a telephone, video or face-to-face consultation with our specialist consultant in respiratory medicine, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

020 7118 5600
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