5 Main Health Risks Of Asbestos

From 1999 to 2013, there were an estimated 12,000-15,000 asbestos-related deaths every year in the United States.

It’s not surprising – given that asbestos was widely used for many decades in a number of applications, including the construction and automotive industries.

By the 1970s, it was clear that asbestos exposure was linked to cancer.

Though it’s rarely used anymore, it does still exist in older buildings that haven’t been subjected to abatement. And that can be a problem.

Asbestos Is No Joke

What makes it especially tricky is that symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses often don’t show up for 10, 20 or even 30 years after prolonged exposure.

So if you feel you’re at risk, you’ll want to reach out to a company that performs asbestos testing or risk assessment services.

Otherwise, you may face one of five potential health risks that no basic first aid will heal:

1. Various Cancers

Lung cancer is the most common cancer associated with asbestos exposure. It occurs when a malignant tumor invades and blocks the lung’s air passages. And the chances of developing it are far greater for those who smoke tobacco.

Mesothelioma is a rarer cancer and often doesn’t appear until 30-40 years after exposure. This cancer attacks the membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity, the membrane lining the abdominal cavity and/or the membranes surrounding other internal organs.

Although lung cancer and mesothelioma take the spotlight, asbestos exposure can also cause cancer of the larynx, ovary, pharynx, stomach, and colorectum.

2. Asbestosis

Breathing asbestos fibers can cause scarring in the lungs – making it difficult for oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass in and out of them easily. As a result, those with asbestosis have trouble breathing.

This condition occurs most commonly in those who experienced high exposure over a long period of time.

3. Pleural Abnormalities

Inhalation of asbestos fibers can also lead to additional types of non-cancerous abnormalities in the lining of the chest cavity, also known as the pleura. These abnormalities negatively impact lung function and respiration.

Pleural abnormalities are common in those who worked with asbestos. But they’re also common in family members of these workers who carried asbestos fibers home on their clothes.

Conditions affecting the chest cavity usually occur anywhere from 10-30 years after exposure.

4. Immune System Issues

Studies done on workers exposed to asbestos – and particularly those struggling with asbestosis – indicate that their immune system function is reduced. Though there’s an element of the “chicken or the egg” in this situation.

It’s still uncertain if the changes in immune function are the cause or the result of asbestosis. To be fair, workers exposed to asbestos who haven’t developed asbestosis showed only a mildly depressed immune function. Or no change at all.

But it’s definitely worth noting.

5. Retroperitoneal Fibrosis

Retroperitoneal fibrosis is a rare condition where a fibrous mass develops behind the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. This can eventually result in kidney failure.

Though studies are new with this condition, a recent control study found there is reason to believe that asbestos exposure could be a causal factor.

Steer Clear of Those Fibers

There’s no reason to expose yourself to asbestos. You’re not only putting your life at risk, but the lives of those around you.

So if you still have asbestos in your home, be sure to have experts remove it for the sake of your health.

And for more interesting news stories on health and wellness, keep checking back with our health blog.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.