Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a general category that includes various lung conditions. These pulmonary disorders affect the absorption of oxygen into the lungs and make breathing difficult. While there are many forms of interstitial lung disease, there are steps you can take to manage your interstitial lung disease symptoms.
What is interstitial lung disease?
Interstitial lung diseases all affect the interstitium, which is part of the lungs’ anatomic structure. The interstitium is a lace-like network of tissues that flows throughout both lungs and provides support to the tiny air sacs or alveoli. Tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium, allowing gas to exchange between the blood and the air in the lungs. Normally, the interstitium is so thin that it can’t be seen on a chest x-ray or CT scan. Interstitial lung diseases cause the interstitium to thicken, which can occur because of scarring, extra fluid or inflammation.
Typically, the scarring associated with interstitial lung disease causes progressive lung stiffness and eventually affects your ability to breathe. People with interstitial lung disease often have difficulty getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream.
What causes interstitial lung disease?
Because interstitial lung disease can be caused by autoimmune diseases, exposure to organic and inorganic agents in the home or workplace, certain medications and some type of radiation, it can be challenging for doctors to determine a specific cause of interstitial lung disease. In some cases, the cause is unknown and is labeled as idiopathic interstitial pneumonia.
Medical conditions associated with lung damage and inflammation include mixed-connective tissue disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus. Medications that can potentially damage your lungs and cause ILD include chemotherapy drugs, certain heart medications and some types of antibiotics. Long-term exposure to organic and inorganic materials can also damage your lungs. These materials include asbestos fibers, bird protein, coal dust, grain dust, mold, cigarette smoke and silica dust.
What are interstitial lung disease symptoms?
The type, severity and progression of interstitial lung disease symptoms varies from person to person. However, there are some common and shared interstitial lung disease symptoms, such as shortness of breath and a dry cough.
Other interstitial lung disease symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Abnormal enlargement of the fingernail base
- Acute pneumonia
Ways to manage interstitial lung disease symptoms
While interstitial lung disease is a progressive condition without a cure, meaning it will worsen gradually over time, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms. Depending on your symptoms and type of interstitial lung disease, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatment options.
For example, certain antibiotics may be prescribed if you experience acute pneumonia. Certain forms of interstitial lung disease have ongoing inflammation causing damage in the lungs, so corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation. Sometimes medications that suppress the immune system or even a lung transplant could be recommended by your doctor. Because interstitial lung disease makes breathing and getting enough oxygen difficult, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to help you improve your blood oxygen level.
Many people have found alternative therapies beneficial in helping them breathe easier, including from stem cell therapy. In fact, after treatment, many patients reported coming off or reducing their oxygen therapy use and were able to perform their daily activities again with more ease. They saw improvements to their interstitial lung disease symptoms. If you or a loved one has interstitial lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis or another chronic lung disease, contact us at (800) 729-3065 to learn more about your treatment options.