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What are the Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure?

Updated: Apr 22

men removing asbestos panels

Symptoms of asbestos exposure include persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and crackling sound when breathing. Long-term exposure can lead to lung diseases and cancer.


In this Article:


So what are the Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure?

Symptoms of Asbestos exposure include:

  • Shortness of Breath Asbestos fibres can make breathing feel difficult or laboured. It might feel like you can't catch your breath easily.

  • Shortness of Breath Asbestos fibres can make breathing feel difficult or laboured. It might feel like you can't catch your breath easily.

  • Persistent Cough A cough that doesn't go away over time and may get worse.

  • Chest Pain or Tightness The chest may feel tight or painful, especially when taking deep breaths.

  • Crackling Sound While Breathing A crackling sound is heard when inhaling and exhaling.

Exposure to asbestos has significant health risks, primarily affecting the respiratory system. Symptoms may vary from shortness of breath and persistent coughs to more severe conditions like asbestosis and mesothelioma, which could surface decades after exposure.

These conditions highlight the importance of awareness and early detection, emphasizing the critical need for individuals who suspect asbestos exposure to seek medical advice and regular health monitoring.


Long Term Asbestos Related Diseases

  1. Asbestosis This is a lung disease that results from the inhalation of asbestos particles, leading to scarring of the lung tissue. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath and a persistent cough.

  2. Lung Cancer Asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, especially among smokers.

  3. Mesothelioma This is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (and sometimes the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart) and is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure.

  4. Pleural Effusions This condition involves the build-up of fluid between the layers of tissue lining the lungs and chest cavity, leading to breathing difficulties.

It's important to note that symptoms of asbestos-related diseases can take a long time to appear after exposure, sometimes decades. Therefore, if you think you've been exposed to asbestos, it's crucial to inform your doctor and monitor your health for any signs of these conditions.


How Long Does Asbestos Stay in the Air?

Imagine you open a window and let a bunch of tiny, invisible feathers fly into your room. Some of these feathers might land quickly on surfaces, while others might keep floating around in the air for a while, especially if there's a breeze to keep them up. Asbestos fibres are kind of like those tiny feathers. If asbestos is disturbed (like during construction or when materials containing it are damaged), its tiny, harmful fibres can get into the air.

How long these asbestos fibres stay floating around depends on a few things:

  • The Air Inside: If there's a lot of moving air, like from fans or open windows, the fibres might get blown around more and stay airborne longer.

  • The Room's Setup: In places with lots of nooks and crannies or soft furnishings, the fibres might settle down faster because they have more places to land.

  • The Asbestos Itself: Different types of asbestos fibres might float around longer than others because of their size and shape.

In a very still room with not much air movement, asbestos fibres can stay floating for up to 48 to 72 hours. But remember, just because you can't see them doesn't mean they're gone. They can settle on surfaces and get stirred back up into the air again when disturbed.

The key takeaway is that asbestos fibres can be tricky and can linger in the air for quite some time, posing health risks. That's why it's super important to handle asbestos carefully and professionally, to minimize its release into the air and to clean it up properly.


What Does Asbestos Smell like?

Asbestos doesn't have a smell. It's a naturally occurring mineral made up of tiny, fine fibres that are too small to see or smell.

Because you can't detect asbestos with your senses—it doesn't taste, smell, or look distinctive in its raw form—it makes it tricky to know when you're being exposed to it without proper testing. This is why asbestos is often discovered during building inspections or renovations when materials containing it are analysed by professionals.

The lack of a smell or any other immediate sensory indicator underlines the importance of being cautious and consulting experts when dealing with older buildings or materials that might contain asbestos.


What Does Asbestos look like Under a Microscope?

Imagine looking through a powerful magnifying glass that lets you see extremely small particles, like a piece of hair split into hundreds of pieces. Under a microscope, asbestos doesn't look like one single thing because it comes in different types, each with its own unique appearance. But, to make it easy to understand, let's talk about a common way many types of asbestos might look when magnified:

Asbestos under a microscope

Asbestos fibres are like very thin, tiny needles or threads. These fibres are so small that you can't see them with your eyes alone. They are bundled together like strands of hair that can be woven into a fabric or mixed into building materials to make them stronger.

Some types of asbestos might look more like curly, twisted fibres (imagine tiny, coiled springs or the curls of a woolly sheep), while others are straighter and needle-like. Under the microscope, these fibres can appear transparent or slightly coloured, depending on the type of asbestos and how the sample is prepared for viewing.

Because of these tiny, thin fibres, asbestos can easily break apart and become airborne, which is why it's considered dangerous when disturbed. The microscopic view of asbestos helps scientists and professionals understand how it behaves and why it's important to handle it with care to prevent inhaling these harmful fibres.


What does Asbestos Insulation look like?

Asbestos insulation, used in many homes and buildings until the late 20th century, can vary in appearance depending on its type and where it's used. However, here's a simple way to visualize what it often looks like:

asbestos insulation

  • Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation This type looks a bit like fluffy, loose cotton or wool. It can be found in attic spaces or inside walls. The fibres are small and can easily become airborne if disturbed.

  • Asbestos Sheet Insulation This form is more solid and was used to insulate pipes, boilers, and heaters. It wraps around these fixtures like a protective blanket and is usually a dull, greyish-white colour.

  • Vermiculite Insulation Although not all vermiculite contains asbestos, some of the vermiculite used for insulation before 1990 can be contaminated with asbestos. This type of insulation looks like small, pebble-like pieces that are shiny and might range in colour from grey to brown to silver-gold.

  • Spray-on Asbestos Insulation This appears as a rough, spray-applied coating on ceilings, walls, and beams. It's often found in industrial or commercial buildings.

Remember, it's tough to tell if insulation contains asbestos just by looking at it. If you suspect that your home or a building, you're in has asbestos insulation, it's essential not to touch or disturb it. Disturbing asbestos can release harmful fibres into the air. The best approach is to contact a professional who specializes in asbestos inspection and removal to safely handle the situation.


Asbestos Awareness Training

We provide asbestos-related training that ensures you receive comprehensive and expert guidance on managing asbestos safely. Our programs are designed by specialists in the field, combining up-to-date regulatory information with practical, hands-on experience. This approach not only equips you with the necessary knowledge to identify and mitigate the risks of asbestos exposure but also emphasizes safety protocols and procedures.

Our Asbestos Awareness Course prepares you to apply knowledge effectively in real-world situations, ensuring the health and safety of yourself and others in environments where asbestos is present. Our commitment to quality education makes us an excellent choice for anyone looking to understand and manage asbestos-related challenges professionally.


a link to asbestos awareness course

a link to asbestos awareness for architects and designers course




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