Asbestos is a substance that occurs naturally. Consequently, virtually everyone experiences a small amount of asbestos exposure at some point — but not everyone becomes sick.
Researchers know that there are numerous factors that can influence whether someone eventually falls prey to an asbestos-related illness. The No. 1 factor, of course, is the amount of exposure that you experience during your lifetime.
For example, if you worked for several years in a shipyard or in a construction business around a lot of asbestos insulation or other asbestos products, you probably had a lot more exposure to asbestos than most people normally experience in a whole lifetime of exposure in the natural environment. Any long-term exposure drastically increases your chances of developing asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Shorter exposure can be just as dangerous, however, when the exposure is intense. That’s why firefighters, police officers and other first responders who were subjected to asbestos exposure after the collapse of the World Trade Center are developing so many asbestos-related diseases.
Naturally, you can’t control the past. However, there’s one thing that you can do right now to reduce your chances of developing an asbestos-related disease: Quit smoking.
While length of exposure, intensity of exposure and genetics all play a part in whether you eventually develop an asbestos-related condition, smoking has been pinpointed as another major factor that affects the course of disease development.
In general, smoking damages the elasticity of your lungs, making them less flexible over time. In the case of lung cancer, the scar tissue may eventually be what develops into malignant cells. In the case of asbestosis, the restricted movement of the lung may simply worsen the condition or hasten its arrival.
If you are a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos on your job in the past, take steps to quit as soon as possible. Your doctor may be able to help you quit with the addition of either a medication like Chantix or a referral to a smoking cessation program. In addition, it’s important to remember that people who develop an asbestos-related disease after workplace exposure do have options for financial recovery that can help with medical expenses.