Interstitial Lung Disease
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is an umbrella term for a large group of diseases that inflame or scar the lungs. This inflammation and scarring make it difficult to get oxygen.
Specifically, these diseases cause scarring of the tissue surrounding and supporting the air sacs, which are the tiny spaces in your lungs that hold air. Doctors refer to the scarring as “pulmonary fibrosis,”—pulmonary is another word for lung and fibrosis is a medical term for scarring. This pulmonary fibrosis can cause your lungs to grow progressively stiffer, making it increasingly difficult for you to breathe and get enough oxygen in.
ILD is a progressive condition, which means it worsens in time. Once scarring occurs, it is irreversible. Medications can slow the damage caused by fibrosis but patients with ILD may never regain full use of their lungs.
Interstitial Lung Disease Symptoms
Dry cough and shortness of breath while at rest or with exertion are the main symptoms of ILD. By the time these symptoms appear, however, irreversible damage from fibrosis may have already occurred. These symptoms are common with many other lung conditions, so it is always important to get an accurate diagnosis.
Some types of ILD are the result of breathing in dust or other particles in the air. Specific types and causes include:
- Asbestosis, from inhalation of asbestos fibers
- Black lung disease from inhaling coal dust, common in coal miners
- Farmer’s lung, resulting from moldy hay, straw and grain dust inhalation
- Siderosis, also called “welder’s lung,” resulting from breathing in iron from welding fumes
- Silicosis, caused by silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
Other causes of ILD may include autoimmune diseases or occupational exposures to fumes, molds or gases. ILD is sometimes idiopathic, which means the cause may be unknown.
Certain risk factors increase your chances for developing ILD. These risk factors include:
- Age – adults are more likely to develop this lung condition
- Exposure to occupational or environmental toxins – working in a mine or on a farm, for example
- Family history – you may inherit a vulnerability to developing ILD
- Certain cancer treatments – radiation therapy to the chest or chemotherapy
- Smoking – ILD is more likely to develop in people with a history of smoking and active smoking can worsen the condition
Interstitial Lung Disease Diagnosis and Treatment
Interstitial lung disease requires professional diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis usually involves an X ray, CT scan or MRI imaging of the chest. A pulmonary function test helps assess lung function.
A lung doctor can perform a bronchoscopy to help determine the cause of the disease. The pulmonologist uses a bronchoscope, which is a long, thin device with a camera mounted at the end, to see inside the lung. The doctor can take a sample, known as a biopsy, to send to the laboratory for identification.
Treatment depends largely on the cause of ILD and the stage of the disease. Treatment may include medicine, oxygen therapy, or in severe cases, a lung transplant.