Asbestos kills around 5000 people each year, that’s more than the number of people killed on the road. It predominantly affects tradesmen, and around 20 people in these professions die each week as a result of exposure. (HSE) Any building that was constructed or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain asbestos. It is not yet a historical problem.
When materials containing asbestos are disturbed or damaged, the asbestos fibres fly into the air and can be breathed in. Asbestos exposure doesn’t cause immediate damage but over time, problems can develop. Once the fibres are in the lungs they get stuck and can cause scarring and inflammation which affects breathing. It is also a carcinogen, which means that it is a known cause of cancer.
What exactly is asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of natural minerals. They appear as bundles of fibres which can be separated into threads. Asbestos is not a single substance like Carbon Monoxide, some asbestos is more harmful than others. The fibres are durable and are resistant to fire, heat and do not conduct electricity. It has been used for many purposes such as:
- Strengthening cement and plastics
- House insulation
- Absorbing sound
- Insulating boilers and pipes
- Vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Paint, coating and adhesives
You can’t see or smell asbestos in the air. So you may be unsure if you were exposed to it. See our guide to asbestos for how to tell if you’ve been exposed.
Who is at risk?
Because asbestos was so widely used, it’s very likely that we’ve all been exposed to asbestos at some point, but not everybody will get sick from asbestos exposure.
Whether you get ill from asbestos exposure depends on:
- How much asbestos you were exposed to.
- How long you were exposed to it, and how often.
- The type of asbestos you were exposed to.
- The source of the exposure.
- Whether you are a smoker (smokers are more likely to suffer from asbestos related diseases).
- Whether you have pre-existing lung conditions.
Why so much concern over asbestos exposure?
Once you have inhaled asbestos fibres, there is nothing that can be done to get them out of your lungs. The best option is to not be exposed in the first place and this is why industries like construction have such strict regulations about this material. Onset of a disease caused by asbestos may take up to 30 years to manifest. Asbestos exposure can cause very serious diseases.
Asbestos can cause:
Mesothelioma – A cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is usually fatal by the time it is diagnosed.
Lung Cancer – This can look the same as lung cancer caused by any other substance (such as smoking) so it is important that your health care providers know that you have been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestosis – This is caused by the asbestos particles creating scarring and inflammation in the lungs. It causes progressive shortness of breath and can be fatal.
Pleural thickening – The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells, this can cause shortness of breath and discomfort.
Don’t lose hope
Because there is nothing that can be done to get asbestos fibres out of the lung, some people think that there is no point in getting help after they’ve been exposed to it. Knowing you’ve been repeatedly exposed to asbestos can be a terrifying thought and the worry can stop people from getting help because they fear what a doctor might say. While you can’t go back in time, if you were ill from asbestos an early diagnosis would be very beneficial. There is more a doctor can do for you in the early stages. People who have asbestos related diseases are living longer now thanks to improvement in treatments. There is no point in sticking your head in the sand when there is so much help and support available for you.
If you are having symptoms of an asbestos related disease such as chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath, a persistent cough or tiredness, it’s important to see a doctor and get a diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis a solicitor may be able to help you proceed with a claim, even if your exposure was many years ago, the firm has shut down, or you were exposed to asbestos via many different firms. To get advice about making a claim for an asbestos related disease – fill in our claims form, if we think we can help, we’ll send a solicitor for an immediate home visit.
If you have been exposed to asbestos but do not have any symptoms here are some steps to take (recommended by asbestos.com):
- See your doctor regularly for check ups and always remind them that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past.
- Every year, or every other year, see your doctor for an asbestos related appointment where you discuss your lung function.
- Understand that asbestos related diseases have what’s called a latency period (developing time) of 20 to 50 years. If you feel fine now, that’s great, but always be aware of symptoms and keep a close eye on your health for the rest of your life.
- Don’t allow yourself to live in fear. It’s worth talking to people about your worries. Here is a list of support and resources available to people who have been exposed to asbestos.
- Stop smoking and lead a healthy lifestyle.
If you have any questions about making a claim for asbestos exposure please call 0800 163 622.