Exposure to asbestos can contribute to several lung diseases, but there’s no clear evidence of a link to asthma. More long-term studies are needed.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was previously widely used in construction and other industries. After exposure was found to increase people’s risk of cancer and other serious diseases, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned its use in any new construction or manufacturing in 1989.

You might still encounter asbestos in older buildings. You may also have had exposure at work or home before the EPA banned new use of the substance.

While it’s possible to develop lung-related conditions after asbestos exposure, a definitive link with asthma is uncertain. Here’s what to know about whether asbestos can cause asthma, as well as important information about other respiratory conditions linked to asbestos exposure.

If you have a possible or confirmed history of asbestos exposure, you may be concerned about respiratory conditions or other serious illnesses.

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. It’s often a lifelong disease that requires a combination of treatment, management techniques, and the avoidance of known triggers to help prevent asthma attacks.

There isn’t a single cause of asthma, and it often runs in families. But if you’ve been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing respiratory symptoms like coughing and wheezing, asthma might be one of the first conditions you think of.

Still, there’s not a strong link between asbestos exposure and asthma. While asthma affects your airways, asbestos fibers can affect multiple parts of your lungs. Also, while asbestos exposure may trigger asthma symptoms, it’s not clear whether the two are linked.

For example, a 2020 study found a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and recurring chest infections in people with previous asbestos exposure. But the same study also noted that asthma wasn’t an associated risk.

As a 2021 review points out, occupational asthma and asbestos-related diseases are two separate categories of lung diseases that may develop from workplace exposure to irritants and chemicals. It’s not clear if asbestos can cause occupational asthma.

Research has definitively linked asbestos exposure to certain respiratory conditions, including cancers. These include:

There are multiple causes of asthma. This lung disease can develop during childhood from genetics or later in life due to environmental factors. Below are the most common causes of asthma:

  • Family history: People who have a parent with asthma are also up to six times more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Childhood infections: If you had a severe respiratory infection as an infant or child, you have an increased risk of developing asthma later in life.
  • Allergies: Allergies, which also run in families, can increase your risk of developing asthma. People with hay fever and eczema are also more likely to have asthma.
  • Smoking: Both smoking and secondhand smoke can increase your risk of asthma due to its effects on your airways.
  • Other environmental factors: Air pollution, dust exposure in the workplace, fumes, and chemicals are all linked with asthma, especially in adulthood.

Symptoms of asthma

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing (that may worsen at night)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

Asthma affects your bronchial tubes (airways) by making them inflamed. This inflammation, along with triggers, can cause an asthma attack and related symptoms.

Was this helpful?

Asthma and asbestos-related respiratory conditions may share similar symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. This can make it difficult to determine whether your symptoms are related to asthma or asbestos.

For these reasons, it’s important to contact a doctor or other healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any respiratory symptoms. They’ll use breathing tests, imaging tests, and other tools for diagnosis to help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Aside from breathing-related symptoms, asbestos-related diseases can also cause:

When considering asthma and asbestos exposure, read through the following common questions so you can further discuss these with a doctor.

Can asbestos cause respiratory problems?

When you inhale asbestos, some of the fibers may get stuck inside your lung tissues. Over time, this causes inflammation and scarring in your lungs. This may eventually lead to respiratory conditions, such as asbestosis or lung cancer.

What are the first signs of asbestos exposure?

It can take 10–40 years to experience symptoms from asbestos exposure. You may not have any symptoms until you’ve developed an asbestos-related condition. Asbestosis, for example, may cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing.

Is there a test for asbestos exposure?

A lung biopsy is the most accurate test for possible asbestos exposure. A doctor may order this if you’re experiencing symptoms of asbestos-related diseases or have a confirmed history of exposure to asbestos.

A doctor may also order an imaging test, such as a chest X-ray, to help detect inflammation, plaques, or fibrosis in your lung tissues that might indicate lung damage.

Overall, more clinical research, especially long-term studies, is needed to determine whether asbestos exposure can increase the risk of asthma development.

In the meantime, it’s important to see a doctor if you have unusual respiratory symptoms. They can help determine whether your symptoms are related to asthma or an asbestos-related disease.