Asbestosis is a lung disease that occurs in people who inhale asbestos fibers and dust over a long period of time. Asbestos is a mineral that forms tiny and long-lasting fibers.

When asbestos fibers and dust get into your lungs, they can cause fibrosis (thickening and scarring of the lungs). Asbestos can also cause the membranes surrounding your lungs (the pleura) to thicken. This scarring and thickening of lung tissue can make breathing difficult.

In some cases, asbestosis can lead to life-threatening complications, including lung cancer and heart failure. In severe cases, asbestosis can be fatal.


Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.

How severe the disease depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount that was breathed in and the type of fibers breathed in. Often, the symptoms aren't noticed for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.

Other asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Pleural plaques (calcification)
  • Malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung), which can develop 20 to 40 years after exposure
  • Pleural effusion, which is a collection that develops around the lung a few years after asbestos exposure and is benign
  • Lung cancer
  • Workers today are less likely to get asbestos-related diseases because of government regulations.
  • Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestosis Symptoms

When scar tissue forms around the lungs’ microscopic air sacs, known as alveoli, it gradually becomes harder for them to expand and fill with fresh air. The first symptoms of asbestosis include a dry cough and difficulty breathing, accompanied by crackling sounds.

The most common asbestosis symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of weight and appetite
  • Crackling sound when breathing
  • Clubbing of fingers and toes


Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are similar to those of many other types of respiratory diseases.

Physical exam

As part of your evaluation, your healthcare provider discusses your health history, occupation, and exposure risk to asbestos. During a physical exam, your healthcare provider uses a stethoscope to listen carefully to your lungs to determine if they make a crackling sound while inhaling.

A variety of diagnostic tests might be needed to help pinpoint the diagnosis.

Imaging tests

These tests show images of your lungs:

  • Chest X-ray: Advanced asbestosis appears as excessive whiteness in your lung tissue. If the asbestosis is severe, the tissue in both lungs might be affected, giving them a honeycomb appearance.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan: CT scans combine a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. These scans generally provide greater detail and might help detect asbestosis in its early stages, even before it shows up on a chest X-ray.

Pulmonary function tests

Pulmonary function tests determine how well your lungs are functioning. These tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs.

During the test, you might be asked to blow as hard as you can into an air-measurement device called a spirometer. More-complete pulmonary function tests can measure the amount of oxygen being transferred to your bloodstream.

General Rating Formula for Interstitial Lung Disease (diagnostic codes 6825 through 6833): 

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