Asbestosis is a serious long-term lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is a whitish material that was used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing in the past, but is now no longer used.
While asbestos can be dangerous, it doesn't present a health risk if left undisturbed. But if material containing asbestos is damaged, it can release a fine dust that contains asbestos fibres.
When the dust is breathed in, the asbestos fibres enter the lungs and can gradually damage them over time.
But you would need prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres, usually over many years, before you develop asbestosis.
Am I at risk?
You may have been exposed to asbestos if you worked in an industry such as building or construction, particularly in the 1970s-90s.
Now that asbestos is no longer used, those most at risk of being exposed to asbestos include people whose jobs put them at risk of damaging any asbestos remaining in old buildings, such as electricians and demolition workers.
For more information on who could be at risk, read Health and Safety Executive (HSE): am I at risk?
Symptoms of asbestosis
Breathing in asbestos fibres over many years eventually causes scarring of the lungs.
Symptoms of this can include:
- shortness of breath
- persistent cough
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- pain in your chest or shoulder
- in more advanced cases, clubbed (swollen) fingertips
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have the symptoms above and think you may have been exposed to asbestos.
Your GP will listen to your lungs and ask about your work history.
They may refer you to a specialist in lung diseases for more tests if asbestosis is suspected.
Tests may include:
Treatment for asbestosis
There's no cure for asbestosis once it has developed, as it's not possible to reverse the damage to the lungs.
But there are some treatments that can help, such as:
- pulmonary rehabilitation – a programme of exercise sessions, discussion and advice to help you manage your symptoms
- oxygen therapy – breathing in oxygen-rich air from a machine or tank to help improve breathlessness if your blood oxygen levels are low
It's also important that you:
- stop smoking if you smoke – symptoms can be worse in those who smoke, and smoking increases the risk of lung cancer
- see your GP to have the flu vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccination – your lungs will be more vulnerable to infections like flu and pneumonia
Complications of asbestosis
People with asbestosis also have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions, such as:
- pleural disease – thickening of the lining covering the lungs (pleura)
- mesothelioma – cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, tummy, heart or testicles
- lung cancer
Am I entitled to compensation?
If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to claim compensation through:
- industrial injuries disablement benefit
- a civil claim for compensation against previous employers
- a claim for governmental compensation under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979
Support for people living with asbestosis
Asbestosis can have a big impact on your life, but support is available to help you live as independently as you can and have the best possible quality of life.
It might help to speak to others who have the same condition, or connect with a charity.
You may find the following links useful:
- Asbestos Victims Support Forum UK (AVSGF-UK) – call 0161 636 7555
- British Lung Foundation – call 03000 030 555
- Cancer Research UK: mesothelioma – call 0808 800 4040
- Hampshire Asbestos Support Awareness Group (HASAG) – call 02380 010 015 for support in the south of England, south east, London or the Home Counties
- Mesothelioma UK – call 0800 169 2409
Page last reviewed: 07/08/2017
Next review due: 07/08/2020