A guide to asbestos: What are the symptoms and health risks?

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can pose serious health risks. It’s crucial to be aware of the symptoms and associated health hazards. If you suspect asbestos exposure, seek medical attention promptly. Here’s a guide to the symptoms and health risks of asbestos:

Symptoms of asbestos exposure

Respiratory issues

  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or catching breath.
  • Persistent cough: A chronic cough that doesn’t improve.

Chest discomfort

  • Chest pain: Unexplained pain or tightness in the chest.
  • Tightness in the chest: Feeling pressure or constriction.

Respiratory disorders

  • Asbestosis: Scarring of lung tissue leading to reduced lung function.
  • Pleural effusion: Accumulation of fluid in the space around the lungs.

Digestive issues

  • Difficulty swallowing: Particularly in advanced stages.
  • Digestive problems: Nausea or loss of appetite.

Other symptoms

  • Fatigue: Unexplained and persistent tiredness.
  • Weight loss: Unintended weight loss.
  • Clubbed fingers or toes: Enlarged fingertips or toes.

What are the health risks associated with asbestos exposure?


Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that primarily affects the thin layer of tissue surrounding the lungs (pleura) but can also occur in the abdomen (peritoneum) or around the heart (pericardium). It is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure, with a latency period of 20-50 years. Mesothelioma symptoms often manifest in advanced stages, making early detection challenging. Unfortunately, prognosis is generally poor due to the aggressive nature of the disease.

Lung cancer

Asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, especially in individuals who smoke. The carcinogenic properties of asbestos fibres contribute to the formation of tumours in the lungs. The interaction between smoking and asbestos exposure multiplies the risk, emphasising the importance of smoking cessation and workplace safety measures to reduce the incidence of asbestos-related lung cancer.


Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition resulting from the inhalation of asbestos fibres, leading to scarring of lung tissue. Over time, this scarring reduces lung function, causing persistent shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. The disease has a long latency period, often taking decades to manifest. Asbestosis is irreversible, and severe cases can lead to respiratory failure, highlighting the importance of preventive measures and early detection.

Pleural disorders

Pleural disorders associated with asbestos exposure include pleural plaques and pleural effusion. Pleural plaques involve the thickening and hardening of the pleura, the membrane lining the lungs and chest cavity. Although generally benign, pleural plaques indicate past asbestos exposure. Pleural effusion, on the other hand, involves the accumulation of fluid around the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. Both conditions contribute to the overall burden of asbestos-related health issues and underscore the need for vigilant monitoring and medical care.

How can you prevent asbestos-related health risks?

Workplace safety

  • Follow safety guidelines and wear appropriate protective gear.
  • Employ engineering controls to minimise airborne asbestos fibres.

Asbestos testing

Conduct thorough asbestos assessments before renovations or demolitions.

Avoid DIY asbestos removal

Hire professionals for asbestos removal to prevent exposure.

Regular health check-ups

Regular medical check-ups for early detection and intervention.


Stay informed about asbestos-containing materials in your environment.

Seeking medical attention

If you experience any symptoms of asbestos exposure or have a history of exposure, consult a healthcare professional immediately. Provide a detailed history of your work and living environments for accurate diagnosis and appropriate medical care. Remember, early detection and intervention are crucial in managing the health risks associated with asbestos exposure.

If your building contains asbestos and you require a professional helping hand, contact the expert team at All About Asbestos on 01843 600 765.