Last updated: October 16, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Asbestosis is a type of pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers and occurs primarily as a result of occupational exposure. After a long latency period, this condition manifests with nonspecific symptoms, e.g., coughing and dyspnea, which are caused by fibrotic changes in the lungs. The diagnosis is established based on a history of occupational exposure (such as working with textiles, cement, ship-building, insulation) and characteristic changes on chest x-ray (reticular opacities and pleural plaques). Currently, there is no curative treatment for asbestosis. Management consists of measures that provide symptomatic relief like oxygen therapy, prompt antimicrobial treatment of respiratory infections, cessation of exposure, and immunization against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia. Long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to complications like fibrosis, respiratory failure, and malignancy (especially bronchogenic carcinoma, and mesothelioma). Pleural effusion may be the first sign of a malignant mesothelioma. A combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation therapy is used to manage malignant mesothelioma. The prognosis of patients with malignant mesothelioma is poor, with the mean survival time being ∼ 1 year.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Type of pneumoconiosis caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers
  • Risk factors
    • Occupations involving the manufacture or demolition of ships, plumbing, roofing, insulation, heat-resistant clothing, and brake lining
    • Smoking

References: [1][2]

Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon

A high cumulative dose of asbestos is associated with a higher incidence of asbestosis. In smokers, the disease progresses more rapidly because mucociliary clearance is impaired.

References: [1]

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

References: [1][3]

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Although asbestos is commonly found in roofing materials, it predominantly affects the lower lobes of the lungs.


Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

References: [3]

Complicationstoggle arrow icon

Mesothelioma [6]


The most common malignancy associated with asbestosis is bronchogenic carcinoma, not mesothelioma.

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Gulati M, Redlich CA. Asbestosis and environmental causes of usual interstitial pneumonia. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2015: p.1.doi: 10.1097/mcp.0000000000000144 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  2. Walters GI, Robertson AS, Bhomra PS, Burge PS. Asbestosis is prevalent in a variety of construction industry trades. npj Primary Care Respiratory Medicine. 2018; 28 (1).doi: 10.1038/s41533-018-0078-6 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  3. Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson LJ, Loscalzo J . Harrisons Principles of Internal Medicine . McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division ; 2016
  4. Guidelines for the use of the ILO International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses, Revised edition 2011. Updated: November 17, 2011. Accessed: September 23, 2020.
  5. Norbet C, Joseph A, Rossi SS, Bhalla S, Gutierrez FR. Asbestos-Related Lung Disease: A Pictorial Review. Curr Probl Diagn Radiol. 2015; 44 (4): p.371-382.doi: 10.1067/j.cpradiol.2014.10.002 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  6. Mesothelioma. Updated: May 1, 2014. Accessed: February 14, 2017.
  7. Arif Q, Husain AN. Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosis. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2015; 139 (8): p.978-980.doi: 10.5858/arpa.2013-0381-ra . | Open in Read by QxMD
  8. Di Salvo M, Gambaro G, Pagella S, Manfredda I, Casadio C, Krengli M. Prevention of malignant seeding at drain sites after invasive procedures (surgery and/or thoracoscopy) by hypofractionated radiotherapy in patients with pleural mesothelioma. Acta Oncol (Madr). 2008; 47 (6): p.1094-1098.doi: 10.1080/02841860701754182 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  9. Huang W-J, Li Z-H, Wang Z, Yang M-Q, Xu H-T. Primary malignant mesothelioma of the diaphragm with liver invasion. Medicine. 2019; 98 (15): p.e15147.doi: 10.1097/md.0000000000015147 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  10. Bibby AC, Tsim S, Kanellakis N, et al. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: an update on investigation, diagnosis and treatment. European Respiratory Review. 2016; 25 (142): p.472-486.doi: 10.1183/16000617.0063-2016 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  11. Lemen R, Landrigan P. Toward an Asbestos Ban in the United States. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017; 14 (11): p.1302.doi: 10.3390/ijerph14111302 . | Open in Read by QxMD

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer