Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(5):690

See related article on asbestosis.

What is asbestosis?

Asbestosis (az-bes-TOE-sis) is a disease that scars your lungs. It happens when you breathe in asbestos (az-BEST-us) fibers over time. Asbestos is a mineral that was used in the past to make things fireproof.

Who gets it and why?

Asbestos used to be common in many workplaces. People who worked with brake linings of cars, took out old asbestos insulation, built ships, or made asbestos may now have asbestosis. If you have it, you probably came into contact with asbestos 10 to 25 years before your lung problems started. Most patients say they were around visible asbestos dust for at least a few months. You can't give asbestosis to other people.

How can my doctor tell if I have it?

Some common symptoms are trouble breathing and a dry cough. If you have these symptoms, your doctor will ask you about the jobs you've had to see if you might have been around asbestos. Your doctor also may ask you about where you live. You may need breathing tests or x-rays of your chest.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment for asbestosis. Most people have symptoms that do not get worse over time. Your doctor may want you to have chest x-rays and breathing tests every few years. Your doctor will give you a pneumonia shot, and you should have a flu shot every year. You should stop doing anything that exposes you to asbestos.

People with asbestosis are more likely to get lung cancer. If you have asbestosis, you should not smoke cigarettes. Smoking raises your risk of lung cancer. It can also make breathing harder. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about quitting.

Where can I get more information?

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