Asbestos exposure can cause a variety of different diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. It can also cause asbestosis, in which scarring of the lung tissue causes the lungs to become stiff, leading to difficulty breathing. There is no known way to stop the progression of asbestosis, but symptomatic treatments can be helpful.

What is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers in large quantities and over a long period of time. Asbestos is a natural mineral that tends to break apart into microscopic fibers and become aerosolized. The fibers are so small that they can’t be seen in the air.

When these fibers are inhaled, they can become embedded in the lung’s alveoli, which are the tiny air sacs at the end of the airways. The body’s immune system then attempts to break down and remove these foreign fibers, initiating an inflammatory response. However, asbestos is an extremely stable mineral, and the body is unable to break it down.

The asbestos fibers irritate and scar the lung tissue. As asbestosis progresses, more lung tissue is scarred. Over time, the scarred tissue makes the lungs stiff and unable to expand normally, which makes it difficult to breathe.

Asbestosis is a type of interstitial lung disease, which is characterized by inflammation and scarring of lung tissue that prevent your lungs from getting enough oxygen. This kind of scarring is called pulmonary fibrosis. You may see these terms used in your medical record to describe your asbestosis.