Can Asbestos Exposure Cause Asthma ?

The relationship between asbestos exposure and asthma is controversial.  The scientific and medical community is split on whether there is a direct link between asbestos exposure and asthma or related respiratory ailments.

One study of a Norwegian community found 14.4% of incidences of asthma were attributable to occupational exposure to dust or fumes, including asbestos.  Another study conducted in Australia found that among all reported workplace based respiratory events (SABRE), asthma was the most common occupational respiratory condition reported, and the most commonly reported agent overall was asbestos, suggesting a possible correlation between the two.

On the other hand, a study of hospital admissions and legal compensation complaints after a fire resulting in asbestos-containing fallout in a region of England found that although 9% of these claims cited aggravated asthma in the aftermath of the fire, there was “no hard evidence” to suggest these symptoms were a direct result of the fire.

Problems With Research Design

As with all scientific research, results can vary substantially based on seemingly insignificant differences in the ways that studies are designed.

One problem lies in the fact that subject populations available for scientific studies are often limited and self-selecting.  For example, one study of 3,660 workers suspected to have been exposed to asbestos relied on volunteers, and researchers acknowledge that the sample might not be representative because the primary incentive for volunteering for the study was a free screening for asbestosis.  As a result, possible subjects who had already been positively diagnosed with the disease prior to the commencement of the study probably did not participate, potentially skewing study results against linking asbestos exposure and airway obstruction (such as asthma).

Another problem lies in the ways that researchers collect data.  For example, one study on the relation of occupational exposure to asthma compared data collected from research subjects directly by researchers through interviews, to self-reported data given by research subjects to the researchers.  The study found substantial variation between the two modes of research reporting, suggesting that one form of reporting may significantly less reliable than the other.

Asbestos Can Trigger Asthma Flare-ups

While there is disagreement in the scientific community over whether asbestos exposure can cause asthma, it is almost certain that exposure can exacerbate already existing asthmatic symptoms or trigger an asthma attack.  Asthma is a chronic lung disorder characterized by a hypersensitive respiratory system prone to inflammation due to exposure to even minor irritation.  Asbestos is a known lung irritant, and exposure to asbestos is likely to aggravate the condition in those already suffering from asthma.