Asbestosis is a chronic (long-term) lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a general term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. In the past, it was widely used in construction.

Asbestos canbe very dangerous.It does not present a health risk if it is undisturbed, but if material containing asbestosis chipped, drilled, broken or allowed to deteriorate,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 damagethem over time. For asbestosis to develop, prolonged exposure to relatively high numbers of the fibres is necessary.However, it is not the only factor, as many people avoid getting asbestosis, despite heavy exposure.

This is becausethe symptomsare morelikely to get worse in people who smoke, andsmoking also increases the risk of Lung cancer in people with asbestosis.

If necessary, treatments such as oxygen therapy can improve the quality of life of someone with asbestosis.

However, people with asbestosis have a higher risk of developing other serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:

  • pleural disease where the membrane covering the lungs (pleura) becomes thicker, which can further contribute to breathlessness and chest discomfort
  • mesothelioma a type of cancer that affects the membrane that covers the lungs, heart and gut
  • lung cancer

Overall, more people with asbestosis die as a result of one of the cancers mentioned above, or from natural causes, than from asbestosis itself.


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

  • industrial injuries disablement benefit this isa weekly benefit that may be paid to people with asbestosis who were exposed to asbestos while in employment (but not self-employed)
  • a civil claim for compensation through the courts you will need to obtain legal advice about how to do this
  • a claim for a lump compensation sum under thePneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979 if you have asbestosis, or you are the dependant of someone who has died from the condition, andyou haven't been able to get compensation through the courts because the employer who exposed you (or the person on whose behalf you are claiming) has ceased trading

Two of these called crocidolite and amosite were banned in 1985 (although voluntary bans came into force earlier than this) and the use of the third type (chrysotile) was widely banned in 1999.

However, despite these strict regulations having been in place for a number of years, large amounts of asbestos are still found in many older buildings.

It's thereforeimportant to take precautions to reduce your risk of inhaling asbestos fibres if you live or work in a building that may contain asbestos.

If you are concerned that your house may contain asbestos,you can seek advice from an environmental health officer at your local authority or council. Do not attempt to remove any materials that you think may contain asbestos yourself.

If your job meansyou could potentially be exposed to asbestos fibres, make sure you are fully aware of what you can do to reduce your risk. Do notattempt to remove any asbestos you come across, unless you have been trained in how to do this safely.

Read about preventing asbestosis .

Who is affected

Asbestosis is a relatively rare condition, because it takes a considerable degree of asbestos exposure to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for many years.

However, in 2011 there were 178 deaths directly caused by asbestosis and 429 where the condition was thought to have played a role. 980 new cases were assessed for industrial injuries disablement benefit during 2012.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Jun 2016