Interstitial Lung Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Interstitial lung disease, or diffuse parenchymal lung disease, refers to a set of lung conditions which cause the lung tissue to scar progressively.

interstitial lung disease

Interstitial lung disease refers to a set of lung disorders which cause the lung tissue to scar progressively. This kind of scarring will eventually impact the patient’s breathing ability and supply sufficient oxygen to the bloodstream. Also referred to as diffuse parenchymal lung disease, it can be caused by long-term exposure to asbestos and other dangerous materials. Other possible causes include rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

The condition is irreparable once there is lung scarring. Most patients were reportedly not able to completely regain the use of their lungs but the damage may be slowed down by medications. For some patients, one of the main options is a lung transplant.

Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease has two primary symptoms, namely dry cough and shortness of breath. Damage to the lungs is already irreversible once you experience these signs. Upon the first sign of breathing difficulties, it is very important to visit your physician right away. A precise and early diagnosis is key to proper treatment because the lungs can be affected by numerous conditions besides interstitial lung disease.

Causes of Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease takes place when an abnormal healing response is set off by a lung injury. Usually, the proper amount of tissue is produced by the body to fix the damage. However, interstitial lung disease causes this process to be skewed and the air sacs tissues are thickened and scarred. Because of this, reaching the bloodstream is more difficult for the oxygen.

Many different factors can trigger interstitial lung disease. These include some medical treatments, drugs, and airborne toxins. However, the causes in most cases are yet to be determined.

Environmental Factors

The lungs can be damaged by long-term exposure to pollutants and toxins such as radiation treatments, animal and bird droppings, grain dust, asbestos fibers, silica dust, and indoor hot tubs. Lung damage is also evident in individuals who receive radiation therapy for diseases such as breast and lung cancer.

Drugs that Cause Lung Damage

Although formulated to eradicate cancer cells, the lung tissue can also be damaged when patients take in chemotherapy drugs such as cyclophosphamide and methotrexate. The same goes for medications designed to fix irregular heartbeats like propranolol and amiodarone. Certain antibiotics can also hurt the lungs including ethambutol and nitrofurantoin. Some anti-inflammatory drugs are harmful to the lungs such as sulfasalazine and rituximab.

Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Lung Damage

Some medical conditions are also known to hurt your lungs. These include autoimmune diseases like sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and mixed connective tissue disease. In addition, cases of dermatomyositis and polymyositis, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis are also known to damage the lungs.

In certain cases, the cause of interstitial lung disease has never been discovered. Idiopathic interstitial pneumonia, like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, are used to pertain to conditions with no known causes.

Risk Factors of Interstitial Lung Disease

There are multiple factors tied to a higher risk of interstitial lung disease. The first one is age. This condition is known to likely impact adults, although there are cases of children and infants developing the condition. The next one is exposure to environmental and occupational toxins. People who work in construction, farming or mining have an increased risk of developing interstitial lung disease because they are greatly exposed to lung-damaging pollutants.

People with gastroesophageal reflux disease have a higher chance of developing interstitial lung disease. In addition, this disease is more likely to affect individuals with a smoking history. The condition may worsen due to active smoking particularly when associated with emphysema.

Individuals who use chemotherapy drugs and undergo radiation therapy have higher chances of developing this disease.

Common Complications of Interstitial Lung Disease

It is very important to know the nature of interstitial lung disease because it can cause a number of life-threatening conditions. One of these is pulmonary hypertension, which is basically high blood pressure affecting the lungs. This disease impacts the lungs’ arteries and starts when the smallest blood vessels are obstructed by low oxygen levels or scar tissue. Pulmonary hypertension is a progressively worsening condition.

Usually, an outcome of pulmonary hypertension, cor pulmonale or right-sided heart failure happens when the right ventricle needs to pump more than usual blood through the pulmonary arteries which have been obstructed. The extra strain usually causes the right ventricle to fail.

In worse cases, interstitial lung disease may lead to respiratory failure. In this situation, the heart failure is caused by the increasing pressures in the right ventricle and pulmonary arteries combined with the very low levels of blood oxygen.

Possible Treatments for Interstitial Lung Disease

It has been concluded that the lung scarring associated with this condition is irreversible. Furthermore, treatment is not guaranteed to stop the disease progression. However, certain treatments have been observed to temporarily alleviate the symptoms or slow down the condition’s progress. To boost the patient’s quality of life, here are the best-known treatments to control interstitial lung disease.

Drug Medications

Corticosteroid drugs like prednisone are usually prescribed for patients with interstitial lung disease. Sometimes these medications are combined with other drugs to stabilize disease progression and suppress the immune system. Stomach acid medications can help patients deal with gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a condition known to further worsen lung damage.

Oxygen Treatment

The use of oxygen may not prevent lung damage but it is useful for interstitial lung disease patients by facilitating exercise and breathing. It can also reduce and stop complications from the low levels of blood oxygen. Oxygen therapy can decrease blood pressure on the heart’s right side and boost sleep quality.

Pulmonary Rehab

Designed to improve daily functioning, pulmonary rehabilitation can help interstitial lung disease patients to enjoy satisfying and happy lives. The kind of treatment focuses on aspects such as nutritional counseling, emotional support, breathing techniques that enhance lung efficiency and physical exercise to boost endurance.

Lung Transplant

As a last resort, interstitial lung disease patients can opt to undergo lung transplantation. This is best for individuals who are not benefitting from the other treatments.

interstitial lung disease

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