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Lung diseases

Fiberglass Dust Inhalation

11/09/2010

Question:

My husband went up in the attic two weeks ago to install overhead lights in three rooms of our house. He didn`t use a mask for most of it, till he started to feel tightness in his chest and coughing. Then he put on a mask. He moved around alot of insulation multiple times and has since been coughing pretty much non stop. He also coughed up a dark brown chunk, only once about a week ago. Is there anything he can do to help alleviate his coughing? He did take some nyquil last night and it did slow down the coughing while he slept. I just want to make sure there isn`t anything more I can do for him. Or if he should be seen by a doctor. Will the coughing eventually subside on its own? Any advise to this matter will be very helpful, Thanks.

Answer:

With respect to the question on fiberglass insulation exposure, the symptoms described are not uncommon after working with this material. There is little evidence in the literature, in either animal toxicity or human epidemiologic studies, that fiberglass insulation poses a risk for cancer or other serious chronic illnesses. 
(See here for the International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC] monograph on man-made vitreous [glass] fibers: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/index.php)

The short-term effects of heavy exposure to these fibers do include a feeling of tightness in the chest and the natural response is to cough in response to this irritation. You may notice skin itching after handling these materials, the lungs are responding to the same source of irritation. Your husband should be able to clear the fibers normally, assuming no underlying lung conditions like emphysema, bronchitis, or asthma. For example, if he smokes, he should stop, if nothing else until the lungs clear, and ideally for good. If the symptoms persist for more than a week or so, he may want to see the family physician that may refer him to a lung specialist. I really don’t think this will be necessary however. Please feel free to follow up if there are any more questions.

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University