Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.
How severe the disease is depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount he or she breathed in. Often, people do not notice symptoms 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
- Lung cancer
Workers today are less likely to get asbestos-related diseases because of government regulations.
Cigarette smoking increases the risk of getting asbestos-related diseases.