How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

Posted: 22nd Aug 23 10:00 AM

Asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and pleural thickening, develop after being exposed to and inhaling asbestos dust and fibres. Development can take many years after initial exposure, with the time between known as the latency period.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in a wide variety of products and materials in construction and industry until its use was banned in the UK in 1999.

Working with asbestos produced a dust formed of thin, sharp fibres that the human body cannot dissolve.

If these microscopic fibres are inhaled, they can become lodged in the lungs and cause a build-up of scar tissue as the body’s immune system attempts to remove them.

Over time, this scar tissue stiffens the lungs, making it more difficult for the lungs to fill with air and provide oxygen to the body.

Development of asbestos-related disease that cause this restriction, as well as other symptoms, has a latency period of anywhere between 10 and 50 years. Symptoms usually only present themselves 20 to 30 years after exposure to asbestos, once the disease has already started to develop.

For people with heavier amounts of exposure to asbestos, or worked with it for extended amounts of time, such as insulation workers, laggers, boiler makers and shipbuilders, the latency period for developing an asbestos-related disease can be shorter.

There are some instances where the time between exposure and diagnosis can be much shorter – following the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, clouds of dust and debris containing asbestos fibres were released into the air. Most people exposed to this dust were rescue workers at Ground Zero. In 2006, just 5 years following the events of 9/11, an emergency responder died of mesothelioma. Prior to this, another worker was diagnosed with mesothelioma just 2 years after the attacks and died in 2004.

Experts suggest a large number of 9/11 responders to be diagnosed with asbestos-related disease in the coming years, due to the fact that many were not prepared to face the airborne dust and were not given adequate respiratory protection.

What are the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases?

Symptoms for asbestos-related diseases vary from disease to disease, but they all affect respiratory health. Some of the most common symptoms of asbestos diseases are:

  • Breathlessness/ shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Persistent cough (usually 3 weeks or more)
  • Pleural effusions (build-up of fluid on the lungs)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, can also affect the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), as well as the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma). Symptoms for peritoneal mesothelioma can include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal fluid build-up
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

What do I do if I have been exposed to asbestos through work or an occupational activity?

If you have previously been exposed to asbestos or inhaled asbestos dust and fibres through your work, it is important to keep vigilant with your health. Not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related disease, but if you start showing any of the mentioned symptoms, make sure to speak to your GP, explain exactly what symptoms you are suffering from and let them know that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past.

In the event that you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease please get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline. We can offer guidance and advice, as well as put you in touch with some truly amazing charities and organisations set up to help people in your situation.

You may also be eligible for financial compensation and/ or benefits. We work closely with a team of specialist asbestos and industrial disease solicitors from Alderstone Solicitors, who work tirelessly to guide you through the compensation claims process and will take on all responsibility to let you focus on what matters most – your health.

Further reading

Can I claim for asbestos exposure?

What are the signs and symptoms of asbestosis?

What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?