Inhaling asbestos – either in its natural form in the environment or in an industrial product at a job site – can lead to the development of these diseases. Secondhand asbestos exposure, which comes when someone breathes in airborne asbestos fibers that come off of someone else’s skin, hair or clothing, can also cause these illnesses to arise.
Most of these diseases take a long time to develop and even longer for someone, including a doctor, to recognize. But when they show up, they can be debilitating at best, fatal at worst.
Some of the most common diseases that develop after someone breathes in asbestos include mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. While these diseases can occur after a single exposure to asbestos, they typically happen to people who inhaled massive quantities of asbestos fibers over an extended period of time.
Mesothelioma Cancer is the primary cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Although only 2,000 to 3,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, almost all of these cases are caused by breathing in (or swallowing) asbestos.
The body is sometimes capable of eliminating some asbestos fibers, but prolonged or heavy exposure often results in the fibers becoming trapped in the lining of the lungs. This is a primary example of what can lead to the onset of pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma.
The other forms of mesothelioma are peritoneal mesothelioma (the lining of abdomen) and pericardial mesothelioma (lining of the heart). They, too, are associated with asbestos exposure. Medical researchers remain unclear how those forms of the disease develop after a patient breathes in asbestos.
Inhaling asbestos can also cause the disease of asbestosis. This illness is not a cancer, but it causes many of the same symptoms as mesothelioma, such as coughing and shortness of breath.
These symptoms may also be indicative of asbestos-related lung cancer, which is another common asbestos-related disease. Other less serious health problems that can occur after someone breathes in asbestos include pleural plaques and lung fibrosis.