What Instructions Should Be Given to Patients Exposed to Asbestos?

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, you will be able to

  • List four instructions for patient self-care and
  • Describe two instructions for clinical follow-up.

Patients with a history of asbestos exposure will vary widely in their clinical status. Some will be asymptomatic and will continue to be so for life. Some will be beginning to show signs of asbestos-associated disease, and others will have more established disease. The care you provide will depend on the clinical status of the patient. All patients exposed to asbestos, however, need some basic guidance on

  • Self-care, so they can minimize further risks and avoid complications to the extent possible and
  • Clinical follow-up, so they understand when and why to return for further medical attention.

ATSDR has developed a Patient Care and Education Instruction [PDF – 50.5 KB] sheet on asbestos toxicity. It is designed to provide patients with useful information and advice for caring for themselves.

Self Care

Patients should be advised to avoid exposures and conditions that might further increase their risk of disease or worsen their existing condition.

Table 17. Self-care Advice to Asbestos-exposed Patients
Advice Rationale
If the patient smokes, advise them to stop smoking and provide advice on smoking cessation. All patients should avoid exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Smoking decreases lung defenses, dramatically increases risk of lung cancer in case of asbestos exposure, and worsens effects of asbestosis.
Avoid further exposure to asbestos. Further exposure to asbestos can worsen asbestos related disease.
Avoid exposure to respiratory infections especially influenza and pneumonia. Chest infections can be very serious in people with asbestos-associated respiratory conditions.
Clinical Follow-up

Patients should be advised to consult their physicians if they develop

  • Any sign or symptom of chest infection and/or
  • Signs or symptoms of other health changes such as weight loss, change in cough, coughing up blood (these especially since they could possibly be related to an asbestos-associated disease).

ATSDR’s Patient Care Instruction and Education sheet has a more detailed checklist that you can use to determine which types of follow-up are relevant for a given patient.

Key Points