The major health problem caused by asbestos exposure, aside from cancer, is a lung disease called asbestosis. When a person breathes high levels of asbestos over time, some of the fibers lodge deep in the lungs. Irritation caused by the fibers eventually leads to scarring (fibrosis) in the lungs. This can make it hard to breathe. The main symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath and a chronic cough.
When asbestosis occurs, it is typically 10 to 20 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. The disease can get worse over time. While some people may not have serious symptoms, others may be seriously disabled by breathing problems. Unfortunately there is no effective treatment for this disease.
Asbestos can also reach the outer lining of the lungs (pleura), where it can cause pleural plaques (areas of hard, scar-like tissue in the pleura), pleural thickening, and pleural effusions (buildup of fluid between the lungs and the pleura). All of these conditions can make it harder to breathe.
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