Why doesn’t the body rid itself of asbestos fibers?

On Behalf of | Mar 25, 2023 | mesothelioma

People often ask why asbestos fibers that are inhaled stay in the lungs or other parts of the body and end up causing mesothelioma and other diseases – generally years later. Why doesn’t the body filter them out on its own?

To answer this, let’s take a brief look at what happens to asbestos fibers when they’re inhaled. This should give you some idea of the uniquely dangerous nature of asbestos.

How some fibers are cleared out of the body

Asbestos fibers come in all different sizes, even though they’re invisible to the naked eye. The larger ones are actually the most likely to be either swallowed or sneezed out so that they never make it into the lungs.

Some smaller fibers may be cleared naturally out of the body — for example, during swallowing, coughing or the body’s own self-cleaning mechanisms if they land on the larger airways that deliver air to the lungs. However, if they take hold deep inside the lungs, especially in “bifurcations” or divisions within the lungs where the body can’t clear them out, they’re more likely to remain. 

The lungs do have some defenses for clearing asbestos fibers. The lungs’ lymphatic system, for example, flushes some out. However, when the lungs are “overloaded” with asbestos fibers being breathed in, the body likely won’t be able to clear all of them out. Further, some that are removed via the lymphatic system make their way to other places. For example, peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the tissue inside the abdomen

How much asbestos remains in the body once it’s inhaled depends, as you can see, on a number of factors. The size — as well as the type of fiber —  can play a role, but it largely depends on where they land. 

Were you exposed to asbestos?

If a person is required to work around asbestos, particularly if they aren’t provided with appropriate protective gear, they have no real defenses apart from what the body can muster on its own. People who worked or lived around it decades ago often had no idea of its danger (or even its existence and typically were unprotected. 

There are options for obtaining compensation for those who were exposed to it and are now suffering from mesothelioma or other asbestos-related condition. This can provide needed compensation for medical bills and other expenses and damages. You can learn more by seeking experienced legal guidance.