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Pulmonary Fibrosis

Exposure risks regarding short term exposure

10/17/2006

Question:

Would it be possible to develope pf from short term exposure to contaminants such as asbestos or other airborne irritants? By short term I mean less than 3 months.

Answer:

Usually asbestosis (fibrosis in the lung) occurs in people who have been exposed to asbestos fibers in the air that they breath for many years.  It usually takes 15 years of more after the exposure for asbestosis to occur.  Rarely, people who have very intense exposure to asbestos fibers in the air for shorter periods of time (several months) can develop asbestosis later in life.

Therefore, it would depend on the level of exposure.  A person exposed to clouds of asbestos powder in the air regularly for 3 months could conceivably develop asbestosis later in life, but more common exposures (such as boilermaking) for this brief amount of time would be unlikely to cause asbestosis. 

Silica exposure (that can cause silicosis) is similar. If a patient developed pulmonary fibrosis 20 or 30 years after a brief (3 month) exposure to asbestos, other causes of pulmonary fibrosis would be more likely suspects.

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Response by:

James N Allen, Jr, MD James N Allen, Jr, MD
Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University