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Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis and What They Mean for You

26 Jun 2017
| Under Disease Education, Medical, Pulmonary Fibrosis | Posted by
Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis and What They Mean for You

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that causes the lung tissue to become scarred and thick, making it more difficult for oxygen to pass through the lungs’ walls and into the bloodstream. Because of this shortage of oxygen in the body, people with pulmonary fibrosis are frequently short of breath, even after extended periods of rest. There are several other symptoms associated with the condition as well. When you understand the causes of pulmonary fibrosis, you can also understand what they mean for you and what you can do.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis

  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Rapid, unintentional weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Aching joints and muscles
  • Widening and rounding of the tips of fingers or toes (also referred to as “clubbing”)

Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis is a degenerative disease, with the severity of symptoms ranging from person to person. It falls under the larger category of interstitial lung disease. You may have also heard the term “idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” which is pulmonary fibrosis with no known cause. In fact, in most causes of pulmonary fibrosis, it isn’t clear what made the disease begin to develop. However, there are certain factors that often play a role in the development of pulmonary fibrosis.

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette smoking is recognized as one of the greatest risk factors for developing pulmonary fibrosis. According to an article published in Hindawi, smoke and chemicals found in cigarettes cause inflammation in the air passageways. Different individuals respond differently to the chemicals found in cigarettes, and some people may be genetically disposed to experiencing more negative symptoms.

Regardless, it is important not to smoke, especially if you have family members with pulmonary fibrosis, which might indicate that you’re at a greater risk for developing the disease. If you have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and still smoke, the most important thing that you can do for your health is to quit today.

Having trouble quitting? Download our smoking cessation guide, available on our Resources page.

Viral Infections

The link between viral infections and pulmonary fibrosis isn’t as clear-cut as it is with other diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, evidence suggests that both viral and bacterial infections may initiate or exacerbate the condition, according to a study published in American Thoracic Society Journals. Because of this, preemptive antiviral therapy might be a good preventative measure for those prone to developing pulmonary fibrosis.

If you have pulmonary fibrosis, taking measures to prevent infections is important to reducing the chances of severe flare-ups. Getting a flu shot, staying away from people who are sick and carrying around hand sanitizer may help you stay healthy.

Environmental Irritants

Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis and What They Mean for You

Environmental irritants are another major cause of severe lung damage. Environmental irritants may be increased for people in certain occupations who are regularly exposed to the following risk factors:

  • Silica dust
  • Asbestos fibers
  • Grain dust
  • Bird and animal feces
  • Burn pits
  • Herbicides

Avoiding environmental irritants whenever possible and wearing a mask are important steps you can take to protect your lungs.


Although a direct link between genetics and pulmonary fibrosis has yet to be discovered, a number of patients with the condition also have family members who have the disease. This suggests that there is some sort of genetic connection to the disorder.

Because of this, people with family members who have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis should take particular care when it comes to their lungs. Not smoking, avoiding environmental irritants and taking preventative measures to avoid infections are important steps in maintaining lung health.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, has been indirectly linked to pulmonary fibrosis. In fact, studies estimate that 90 percent of people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis also have GERD. GERD is a digestive disorder that allows acidic stomach juices to flow back into the esophagus.

While there is no conclusive evidence of a relationship between GERD and pulmonary fibrosis, studies have shown that a large number of pulmonary fibrosis patients also suffer from acid reflux. While inconclusive, studies suggest that managing GERD symptoms may help reduce pulmonary fibrosis progression and/or symptoms.

If you or a loved one suffers from pulmonary fibrosis, the Lung Institute may be able to help. Contact us today to learn more.

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