Asbestosis is a serious long-term lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a whitish material that was used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing in the past, but is now no longer used.

While asbestos can be dangerous, it doesn't present a health risk if left undisturbed. But if material containing asbestos is damaged, it can release a fine dust that contains asbestos fibres.

When the dust is breathed in, the asbestos fibres enter the lungs and can gradually damage them over time.

But you would need prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres, usually over many years, before you develop asbestosis.

Am I at risk?

You may have been exposed to asbestos if you worked in an industry such as building or construction, particularly in the 1970s-90s.

Now that asbestos is no longer used, those most at risk of being exposed to asbestos include people whose jobs put them at risk of damaging any asbestos remaining in old buildings, such as electricians and demolition workers.

For more information on who could be at risk, read Health and Safety Executive (HSE): am I at risk?

Symptoms of asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos fibres over many years eventually causes scarring of the lungs.

Symptoms of this can include:

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have the symptoms above and think you may have been exposed to asbestos.

Your GP will listen to your lungs and ask about your work history.

They may refer you to a specialist in lung diseases for more tests if asbestosis is suspected.

Tests may include:

  • a chest X-ray
  • a CT scan of the lungs
  • lung function tests to see how well your lungs are working

Treatment for asbestosis

There's no cure for asbestosis once it has developed, as it's not possible to reverse the damage to the lungs.

But there are some treatments that can help, such as:

  • pulmonary rehabilitation – a programme of exercise sessions, discussion and advice to help you manage your symptoms
  • oxygen therapy – breathing in oxygen-rich air from a machine or tank to help improve breathlessness if your blood oxygen levels are low

It's also important that you:

  • stop smoking if you smoke – symptoms can be worse in those who smoke, and smoking increases the risk of lung cancer
  • see your GP to have the flu vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccination – your lungs will be more vulnerable to infections like flu and pneumonia

Complications of asbestosis

People with asbestosis also have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions, such as:

  • pleural disease – thickening of the lining covering the lungs (pleura) 
  • mesothelioma – cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, tummy, heart or testicles 
  • lung cancer

Am I entitled to compensation?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to claim compensation through:

  • industrial injuries disablement benefit 
  • a civil claim for compensation against previous employers 
  • a claim for governmental compensation under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979

Read more about industrial injuries disablement benefit on the GOV.UK website. You can also get advice on benefits and compensation on the British Lung Foundation website.

Support for people living with asbestosis

Asbestosis can have a big impact on your life, but support is available to help you live as independently as you can and have the best possible quality of life.

It might help to speak to others who have the same condition, or connect with a charity.

You may find the following links useful:

Page last reviewed: Fri Aug 2020 Next review due: Fri Aug 2020

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