Asbestos-related conditions

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. If you breathe in these fibres, they can damage your lungs.

There are 4 main diseases associated with breathing in asbestos fibres:

What is asbestos?

Asbestos fibresAsbestos is a term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. Before its dangers were known, asbestos was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and sprayed on ceilings and walls. It is now banned in the UK. Buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them. If the asbestos-containing materials inside these buildings remain intact, they pose very little risk.

It’s only when these materials are damaged or disturbed that tiny asbestos fibres can be released into the air and breathed into your lungs. 


The symptoms of asbestos-related disease take many years – even decades – to appear after the original exposure to asbestos, so exposure a long time ago might only be showing up as a disease today.

The Health and Safety Executive website has lots more information about asbestos.

Who is most at risk?

Working with asbestosYou are at higher risk of damage to your lungs if you’ve been exposed to asbestos for a long time at work.  People at higher risk are those who’ve worked as:

  • carpenters
  • plumbers
  • electricians
  • asbestos miners
  • painters
  • builders

If you’ve worked in shipbuilding, railway engineering and factories that made asbestos products, you also have a higher risk.

You might also be at risk if you have lived with a worker who was exposed to asbestos.

Next: Pleural plaques >

Download our asbestos-related conditions PDF (359KB)

Last medically reviewed: January 2018. Due for review: January 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.