Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) are a group of over a 100 lung conditions that cause stiffening, inflammation and progressive scarring to the lung tissue (fibrosis). The thickening and scarring of the lung tissue makes it harder for the lungs to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream, in turn reducing oxygen supply to vital organs.

Causes

In the majority of cases the cause is unknown, although triggers may include:

  • Pollutants in the workplace such as silica, asbestos, grain dust and animal and bird droppings
  • Certain medical conditions such as sacoidosis and some autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis)
  • Certain medications such as those used to treat irregular heartbeats, chemotherapy drugs and some antibiotics

Symptoms

The main symptoms of ILDs are a dry cough and difficulty breathing (especially upon exertion). Other symptoms include: weight loss, prolonged tiredness and clubbed finger tips/nails.

Diagnosis

Determining the cause of ILD can be extremely difficult, particularly due to the number of conditions that constitute an ILD and the fact that symptoms mimic those relating to other conditions. Some of the following tests may be required:

  • Chest x-ray, CT scan, or Echocardiogram to identify the pattern of scarring to the lungs
  • Lung function tests such as a spirmetry, oximetry or exercise stress test to measure breathing capacity
  • Analysis of lung tissue via a bronchoscopy (insertion of thin tube via nose or throat), bronchoalveolar lavage (injection of salt water into lung) or surgical biopsy (retrieval of larger amounts of lung tissue via surgery)

Treatment

Treatment on an interstitial lung disease will depend on the type of the lung condition and its cause. Treatment may include

  • Medications such as antibiotics to eliminate bacteria or corticosteroids or immunosuppressant drugs to suppress the immune system
  • Oxygen therapy may be recommended for those with low oxygen levels in their body to improve breathing, and protect the heart
  • Lung transplants may be offered to patients who have not responded to other treatment, but only as a last resort