Interstitial lung disease is the name for a group of 100 chronic lung disorders. These diseases inflame or scar the lungs. The inflammation and scarring make it hard to get enough oxygen. The scarring is called pulmonary fibrosis.
The symptoms and course of these diseases may vary from person to person. The common link between the many forms of the disease is that they all begin with an inflammation.
The most common types of interstitial lung disease are:
Fibrosis leads to permanent loss of your lung tissue’s ability to carry oxygen. The air sacs, as well as the lung tissue around the air sacs and the lung capillaries, are destroyed when the scar tissue forms.
The disease may run a gradual course or a rapid course. People that have it may notice variation in symptoms, from very mild to moderate to very severe. The condition may stay the same for a long time or it may change quickly. The course of the disease is unpredictable. If it progresses, the lung tissue thickens and becomes stiff. Breathing becomes more difficult.
The cause of interstitial lung disease is not known. Major contributing factors are smoking and inhaling environmental or occupational pollutants, such as inorganic or organic dusts.
Other contributing factors include:
The following are the most common symptoms for interstitial lung diseases. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of interstitial lung diseases may look like other lung conditions or medical problems. Talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, the healthcare provider may also request pulmonary function tests. These tests help to measure the lungs’ ability to move air into and out of the lungs. The tests are usually done with machines into which you breathe. They may include the following:
A spirometer is a device used to check lung function. Spirometry is one of the simplest, most common tests. It may be used to:
This device is used to measure the how fast you can blow air out of the lungs. Disease-related changes can cause the large airways in the lungs to slowly narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.
This test takes pictures of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
Arterial blood gas may be done to check the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. Other blood tests may be used to look for possible infections.
This test uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
This is direct exam of the main airways of the lungs (bronchi) using a flexible tube called a bronchoscope. Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, check blockages, take out samples of tissue or fluid, and help remove a foreign body. Bronchoscopy may include a biopsy or bronchoalveolar lavage.
Removing cells from the lower respiratory tract to help identify inflammation and exclude certain causes.
Removing a small piece of tissue from the lung so it can be examined under a microscope.
Because there are so many causes, treatment will vary. Some interstitial lung diseases do not have a cure. Treatment is aimed at preventing more lung scarring, managing symptoms, and helping you stay active and healthy. Treatment can’t fix lung scarring that has already occurred.
Treatments may include:
Check with your healthcare provider about getting flu and pneumococcal shots. Getting a flu shot every year can help prevent both the flu and pneumonia. In addition, pneumococcal bacteria can cause minor problems, such as ear infections, but can also develop into life-threatening illnesses of the lungs (pneumonia), the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and the blood (bacteremia). Pneumococcal disease can be acquired by anyone, but children younger than age 2, adults ages 65 and older, people with certain medical problems, and smokers are at the highest risk.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider: