Interstitial Lung Disease: Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

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Lung diseases are often labelled chronic within the medical community as they alter the patient’s ability to breathe. Most diseases of the pulmonary system warrant immediate medical attention because of this. In this article, we will explore what is interstitial lung disease, and how it is treated.

Interstitial Lung Disease

What is Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease is a rare group of diseases that cause scarring in the lungs. This scarring increases progressively with time. These diseases affect two aspects of a patient’s health – the ability to breathe and the ability of the body to absorb the required amount of oxygen. In most cases, the scarring that occurs in the lungs cannot be reversed, due to which patients must manage this condition for the rest of their lives.

What are the Common Causes of Interstitial Lung Disease?

Researchers have not been able to pinpoint specific interstitial lung disease causes, however, they do believe that certain factors like environmental hazards and other pre-existing health problems (or medicines taken for the same) can contribute to the development of this disease.

1. Environmental hazards:

When patients undergo long term exposure to certain hazardous materials, it can lead to the development of these diseases. Some of these materials include:

  • Asbestos
  • Silica dust
  • Grain fibres
  • Indoor hot tubs
  • Bird droppings
  • Radiation treatments

When inhaled on a regular basis, these substances can damage the lungs and also damage the process with which the lungs heal. When tissue regeneration is compromised, the lungs form scar tissue and continue doing so due to compromised healing.

2. Medications:

Certain medications can cause interstitial lung disease as they can damage the lungs irreparably. These include:

  • Heart medications
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Certain antibiotics

3. Health conditions:

Interstitial lung disease can occur as a secondary disease. This means that it is caused due to another health condition. Some of these health conditions include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Mixed connective tissue disease
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Polymyositis
  • Scleroderma

What are the Common Types of Interstitial Lung Disease?

There are different types of interstitial lung diseases. The types are categorized based on their specific causes. Some of these include:

  • Interstitial pneumonia: Caused by fungi, virus, or bacteria that affect the lungs.
  • Non-specific interstitial pneumonitis: Caused due to autoimmune conditions.
  • Desquamative interstitial pneumonitis: Caused due to smoking.
  • Acute interstitial pneumonitis: Caused due to unknown reasons, the onset of this is quite sudden and often results in the need for life support.
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: Caused due to prolonged exposure to mould and dust.
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: Caused due to unknown reasons, this results in the development of fibrosis in the lungs.

What Are the Symptoms to Watch Out For?

Unfortunately, interstitial lung disease does not come with a huge list of symptoms. Most commonly, patients suffer a shortness of breath. This is sometimes accompanied by a dry cough that does not go away. As a rule, however, if you do experience shortness of breath for a prolonged period at any given time, please know that this is a serious symptom and you must seek medical attention.

How Is Interstitial Lung Disease diagnosis take place?

In order to confirm the interstitial lung disease diagnosis, a doctor may run multiple tests.

Some of these tests include:

  • Blood tests: To detect markers for autoimmune problems or inflammatory responses in the body that may point towards these diseases.
  • CT scan: To detect the extent of damage and scarring in the lungs.
  • ECG: To test whether the heart is functioning correctly (as one of the complications of unchecked interstitial lung disease is heart failure)

In order to test the lung tissues, doctors may order a bronchoscopy, surgical biopsy or Broncho Alveolar Lavage. Doctors may also order certain tests such as oximetry and spirometry in order to check whether oxygen is being absorbed into the bloodstream correctly. All of these tests not only confirm an interstitial lung disease diagnosis, but also help determine the course of interstitial lung disease treatment as they can often indicate how far the disease has progressed.

What is the Treatment for Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease treatment often depends on the type of lung disease the patient is suffering from, and the overall progression of the disease. However, there are certain constants that are a part of every patient’s treatment plan.

1. Medications:

Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids in order to slow down or completely halt the progression of interstitial lung disease. These medicines work by slowing down the body’s natural immune system so that it does not keep trying to repair the scar tissue.

Certain medications are also prescribed in order to slow the progression of the fibrosis in the lungs. As GERD (or acid reflux) is a common occurrence in patients with these lung disease, doctors may also prescribe medications to reduce stomach acid.

2. Rehabilitation:

The scarring caused to the lungs cannot be fixed. As a result, patients must undergo physical rehabilitation to improve the way they breathe.

The rehabilitation exercises aim to:

  • Increase the patient’s physical endurance
  • Teach new breathing techniques that take into account lung scarring
  • Offer emotional support
  • Provide nutritional counselling

3. Oxygen Masks:

While oxygen masks are not a treatment per se, they form an indispensable part of the treatment plans as they offer mental and physical relief. They can also help patients sleep well and are thus quite an important aspect of the patient’s journey to managing life with scarred lungs.

4. Surgery:

The only way to get rid of interstitial lung disease is to undergo lung transplant surgery.

Conclusion:

If you have to face unavoidable occupational hazards or lifestyle habits such as smoking that puts you at a risk for developing these diseases, Consult your doctor about ways to prevent interstitial lung disease. Often, a few small steps taken to safeguard one’s health go a long way in ensuring a long, healthy life!

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