The official blog of the Lung Institute.
For people living with pulmonary fibrosis or people who are newly diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, you may wonder how you got the disease. This is a common and normal question to ask. Pulmonary fibrosis is a type of interstitial lung disease. Generally, when a non-smoker gets pulmonary fibrosis, it can be challenging for doctors to know why. When this happens, it’s usually considered idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, meaning there isn’t a known cause. To help you better understand pulmonary fibrosis, we’re here to provide some answers to the question “how do non-smokers get pulmonary fibrosis?”
What is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a subset of a group of conditions referred to as interstitial lung disease. It is a condition that scars the lungs, causing the intricate pulmonary passageways to thicken and harden, and making it difficult for oxygen to pass through the walls of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) into the bloodstream. The resulting lack of oxygen in the bloodstream leaves people short of breath, even after periods of prolonged rest.
How Do Non-Smokers Get Pulmonary Fibrosis?
When a non-smoker gets pulmonary fibrosis, it’s generally considered idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a form with no known cause. Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease that varies in the rate of degeneration from person to person. Scarring of the lungs is irreversible.
The various causes of pulmonary fibrosis that don’t involve smoking include occupational and environmental factors, reaction to medications, autoimmune disorders (specifically connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis), infection, genetics and some factors that remain a mystery. Smoking exacerbates the condition and may lead to cancer and/or other lung conditions.
Prolonged exposure to toxins or irritants, such as the following, can cause major damage to the lungs:
- Silica dust
- Asbestos fibers
- Grain dust
- Bird and animal feces
- Burn Pits
People who have received radiation therapy or used certain medications for an extended period may be more susceptible. Some examples include:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapeutic agents
The role of genetics in the onset of pulmonary fibrosis is under evaluation. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis have some form of inherited pulmonary fibrosis, referred to as familial pulmonary fibrosis.
Those who suffer from autoimmune diseases–specifically connective tissue disorders–can develop pulmonary fibrosis. These autoimmune disorders may lead to pulmonary fibrosis:
- Scleroderma or progressive systemic sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Polymyositis or dermatomyositis
Severe infections can contribute to multiple types of interstitial lung disease, including pulmonary fibrosis.
Alternative Pulmonary Fibrosis Treatments
While it can be challenging to answer the question “how do non-smokers get pulmonary fibrosis,”along with medications and lifestyle strategies, alternative treatments are available. At the Lung Institute, we provide stem cell treatments for people with chronic lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis. Stem cell therapy is distinct from pharmacological medications, which typically only manage symptoms. In stem cell therapy, stem cells are extracted from the patient, separated in our on-site lab and returned to the patient intravenously. Once returned, stem cells can work to promote healing from within the lungs, potentially improving quality of life.
Many of our patients report feeling better, seeing improvements in their quality of life and enjoying a more active lifestyle following treatment. If you or a loved one has pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about your pulmonary fibrosis treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.