Interstitial lung disease refers to a large group of disorders that affect the lung tissue and the space between and around the air sacs of the lungs causing progressive scarring. The associated scarring may cause progressive lung stiffness that eventually affects the breathing process and getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
When the scarring on the lungs occurs, it is permanent. Although the damage of the interstitial lung disease can be slowed down with medications, many people never again regain full usage of their lungs.
The primary signs and symptoms of this disease are:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath or breathing with exertion
It is important to visit the doctor once the person has problems breathing, as irreversible lung damage may have already occurred, or other conditions that may affect the lungs, so getting an early and accurate diagnosis is of primary importance for a proper treatment.
Interstitial lung disease can occur after an abnormal healing response of an injury to the lungs. The body generates only the right amount of tissue that is needed to repair the damaged parts. In interstitial lung disease the repairing process goes inappropriately so the tissue around the air sacs (i.e. the alveoli) becomes congealed and scarred what makes difficulties for the oxygen to get to the bloodstream.
Although in some cases the cause is unknown, interstitial lung disease usually occurs from known causes that include autoimmune or rheumatologic diseases, occupational and organic exposures to agents in the home or workplace, medications, and some kinds of radiation.
Occupational and environmental factors
Long-term exposure to the following organic and inorganic materials and agents can cause damage to the lungs:
- Bird protein (live pets and products containing fathers)
- Coal, grain and silica dust
- Asbestos fibers
- Mold from showers, tubs, or water damage
Medications and radiation
There are many drugs that can damage your lungs, such as:
- Chemotherapy or immunomodulating drugs
- Heart medications
- Some antibiotics
NB. Sometimes people who undergo radiation therapy for lung or breast cancer show signs of lung damage months or sometimes even years after the first treatment.
Lung damage can be associated with the following autoimmune diseases:
- Dermatomyositis or polymyositis
- Mixed-connective tissue disease
- Undifferentiated connective tissue disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren's syndrome
The factors that make a person more susceptible to this disease are:
- Age (adults are more affected)
- Exposure to toxins in the living or working space
- Family history (some forms of interstitial lung disease are heritable)
- Radiation and chemotherapy/immunomodulatory drugs
Interstitial lung disease can result in some of the following severe complications:
- Acute deterioration
- Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressures in the vessels of the lungs)
- Hypoxemia (abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood)
- Failure of the respiratory system
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
In order to prevent the condition to get worse and to make the treatment more effective, a patient should:
- Eat well
- Be active
- Stop smoking
- Get vaccinated