Asbestos and Health Risks: What You Need to Know

by | Aug 12, 2018 | Health Featured

Perhaps you’ve seen the television advertisements with lawyers and doctors talking about the dangers of asbestos and using big words like mesothelioma, but what does all of this mean? What is asbestos and do you have anything to worry about?

Let’s take a deeper look into the subject.  

What is Asbestos?

“Asbestos is actually a term for six minerals made up of long, thin, fibrous crystals,” Davis, Saperstein & Salomon explains. “Asbestos is typically divided into two classes. The chrysotile class, also known as the serpentine class, makes up over 90% of asbestos used in US buildings. It is commonly called white asbestos and has a spiral shape.”

The amphibole class of asbestos accounts for the other 10 percent and is made up of the other five asbestos minerals: crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite.

Asbestos was commonly used in the construction industry as an insulator between the 1930s and 1950s – and wasn’t completely done away with until it was banned in the late 1970s. As such, it’s still common for people to encounter it when interacting with older homes.

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Left undisturbed, asbestos isn’t a problem. It becomes dangerous when the fibers are inhaled. Even more alarming is the fact that it can take years (even decades) for symptoms to occur (at which point it’s too late to do anything about).

Left untreated, exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening, pleural plaques, and a host of dangerous and frustrating symptoms.

What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed

The biggest issue with asbestos is that you might not know you’ve been exposed. If you were employed as a shipyard worker, demolition worker, home builder, construction worker, maintenance professional, engineer, or industrial worker during the 1950s to 1970s, it’s highly likely that you came into contact with at least some level of asbestos. But even if you were just a homeowner doing basic DIY projects around the house, you could have inhaled the dangerous fibers.

If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past but don’t have any symptoms, here are some smart steps you can take:

  • Schedule a regular checkup with your primary care physician and notify your doctor about the possibility of exposure. Ask them to keep an eye out for any telltale signs or symptoms and see if they recommend pulmonary function monitoring.
  • Educate yourself on the symptoms of mesothelioma so that you can be more aware of your condition (should one evolve).
  • As you learn about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, you’ll come to understand that the latency period is 20 to 50 years. In other words, symptoms may not pop up until way down the line. Keep this in mind and be aware.

If you know you’ve been exposed to asbestos and have symptoms, you’ll want to fast-track a response plan and do the following:

  • See an asbestos-related disease specialist as soon as you can. You’ll want to speak with someone who understands the early stages of mesothelioma and can detect whether or not you have an asbestos-related illness, or something entirely different. An accurate diagnosis is key.
  • If you don’t have any mesothelioma specialists in your area, look for a thoracic oncologist. These individuals are trained to deal with cancers of the chest.
  • If it’s confirmed that you have mesothelioma (or a similar disease), consider discussing your situation with an attorney specializing in cases like yours. They’ll help you explore your legal options (if there are any).

Asbestos exposure isn’t something to take lightly. Whether you know you’ve been exposed, or are uncertain about it, it’s important that you respond in a fast and sufficient manner. In doing so, you could save your life.

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