Interstitial Lung Disease

What is Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease is a term that is applied to a category of various lung conditions and disorders. These conditions cause inflammation and irritation in the lungs and can also cause damage to lung tissue. Another aspect that these conditions all have in common is the fact that they affect what is known as the interstitium, which is a type of tissue found in both lungs. This tissue supports the air sacs in the lungs.

When a person suffers from an interstitial lung disease, the interstitium becomes stiff or develops scar tissue. This can cause the lungs overall to become stiff and can restrict breathing as the air sacs will not be able to completely fill with air during respiration.

There are numerous potential causes for interstitial lung disease. When a person suffers an injury to the lungs, the healing response in the lung tissue could proceed abnormally and cause the scarring and stiffening to occur. Other possible causes are certain medications and radiation therapy, exposure to certain environmental toxins like coal dust or mold, and some autoimmune diseases. Asbestos is also a common potential cause of interstitial lung disease.

What are the Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease?

For any type of interstitial lung disease, the most prevalent and common symptom is shortness of breath. This shortness of breath can occur when the person is exerting themselves or when they are at rest.

Suffering from a chronic cough is also a common problem. Some interstitial lung diseases can also cause a person to suffer from unexpected weight loss, general fatigue, and muscle aches and pains.

Interstitial Lung Disease Causes

Interstitial lung disease is a serious lung condition that may have a number of possible causes. In a few instances, no cause for this disease can be found.

Interstitial lung disease begins when something damages the inside of the lungs, and the lungs form scar tissue at the area of injury. If this damage and scarring is extensive, it will make breathing extremely difficult.

The damage that leads to interstitial lung disease can be caused by inhaling certain substances that irritate the lungs. Asbestos is one of the worst offending substances. Almost everyone who is exposed to asbestos for a long period of time develops some type of lung disease. In addition to asbestos, grain dust, silica particles and the fumes from animal waste are known lung irritants.

Many different medications are known to cause lung damage as a side effect. The most well-known drugs that cause interstitial lung disease are the chemotherapy drugs used to fight various forms of cancer. Some heart medications such as propranolol and some antibiotics have interstitial lung disease as a side effect.

Certain autoimmune disorders may be the cause of interstitial lung disease. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and sarcoidosis are at particular risk.

How is Interstitial Lung Disease Treated?

The treatment options for interstitial lung disease depend upon the exact condition the person is suffering from as well as the progression of the condition.

Some interstitial lung diseases respond to prescription medications to suppress the immune system or to improve lung function. Oxygen therapy can also help make it easier for the affected person to breathe and may be administered during sleep or exercise or even 24/7 if necessary. Surgery may also be an option for interstitial lung disease but is usually a last resort because this means that a person needs a lung transplant.

Interstitial Lung Disease Prevention

One of the primary ways to prevent the development of interstitial lung disease is to avoid those substances which are known to damage lung tissues. Try to avoid exposure to grain dust around grain elevators and during harvest times if possible. Asbestos is now banned in industry, but those who were exposed need to have their lungs monitored for possible problems.

Smoking is a major lung irritant that will damage the lungs over time. Avoid smoking, and avoid being around the smoke produced by smokers.

Switching to a medication that is not a known cause of interstitial lung disease is a good means of prevention. There are a number of heart medications and antibiotics that do not cause damage to the lungs. However, never stop taking a medication or switch to another medication without first consulting with a doctor.