Asbestos may cause shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough or loss of appetite, WebMD states. The lungs may make a dry, crackling noise when a person breathes in and out. Exposure leads to asbestosis, an inflammatory lung condition, and it is a major risk factor for lung diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos can also trigger progressive changes, such as thickened lung membranes, known as pleural plaques, or abnormal fluid buildup around the lungs, known as pleural effusions.
Asbestos fibers typically become trapped in the lungs and accumulate over several years, according to WebMD. Asbestosis and lung cancer cases associated with asbestos commonly develop at least 15 years after the exposure, and cases of mesothelioma often occur 30 years later. As of 2015, inconclusive studies have also linked asbestos exposure to cancer in organs such as the gallbladder, throat, brain and gastrointestinal tract.
Health complications usually depend on the type of asbestos exposure, the American Cancer Society notes. The main variants are chrysotile, or white asbestos, and amphibole. All forms of asbestos are linked to an increased risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, but amphibole may require less exposure before causing health problems. Smokers exposed to asbestos may decrease their risk of developing lung cancer in the future if they abstain from smoking.