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Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause lung fibrosis. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract as it normally should.

How severe the disease is depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount that was breathed in and the type of fibers breathed in. Often, the symptoms aren’t noticed for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.

Asbestos fibers were commonly used in construction before 1975. Asbestos exposure occurred in asbestos mining and milling, construction, fireproofing, and other industries. Families of asbestos workers can also be exposed from particles brought home on the worker’s clothing.

Other asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Pleural plaques (calcification)
  • Malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung), which can develop 20 to 40 years after exposure
  • Pleural effusion, which is a collection that develops around the lung a few years after asbestos exposure and is benign
  • Lung cancer

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of asbestos-related lung disease may take years to show up. Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath with activity (slowly gets worse over time)
  • Tightness in the chest

Possible other symptoms include:

  • Clubbing of fingers
  • Nail abnormalities


A Deborah Heart and Lung Center physician will perform a physical exam and ask about any symptoms. When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the physician may hear crackling sounds called rales.

These tests may help diagnose the disease:

  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan of the lungs
  • Lung function tests