While last year I felt like I was constantly on the road, this year has been relatively settled. Fortunately, I’m headed to Washington, DC in about a month, and am excited to get on a plane for the first time in what will by then be 10 months since my last flight! After 30 individual flights last year, I’ve become pretty confident in tackling traveling with asthma, so that my asthma gets in the way as little as possible.
Author Archives: Kerri M
As asthma is a common disease, most people are aware that it is a condition that affects the lungs. Asthma is a chronic illness—once a person has it, they will have it throughout their life, through periods of remission where they are asymptomatic do occur.
The main symptoms of asthma are coughing, chest tightness, wheezing (a whistling sound when exhaling), and dyspnea—also known as shortness of breath.
Asthma is controllable, but it can be scary and even dangerous if it’s not kept in check—and having allergies can be downright annoying. Having both asthma and allergies, though, can be the source of some major problems, and the two often coexist. Often, asthma worsens when allergies do—during the spring and late summer.
Acute bronchitis is an infection that leads to inflammation and increased mucus production in the lungs. The symptoms may be similar to other respiratory illness—coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness or pain are all common symptoms of acute bronchitis. 
A persistent cough is the most common symptom that indicates bronchitis—the cough may or may not be productive, and if it is, the sputum (mucus or phlegm) expelled may be yellow or greenish or clear.  Other non-respiratory symptoms include fatigue or tiredness, and slight fever or chills.  It is common for acute bronchitis to onset alongside or just after having a cold, flu or other respiratory virus or infection.  Nasal congestion or sinusitis may also accompany or lead to developing acute bronchitis.  
If you’ve experienced acute bronchitis in the past, you’re not alone: 10 million Americans visit a doctor for symptoms diagnosed as acute bronchitis (more often simply known as “bronchitis”) each year.  Most often, acute bronchitis becomes apparent with a cough, caused by inflammation of the airways.  Most often, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection like a cold or flu, though sometimes it is caused by a bacterial infection or exposure to another irritant, like chemicals. 
Often, treatments developed for asthma can be used for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and treatments used for COPD can be used for asthma—because asthma and COPD are two different diseases, although, with similar symptoms, this may seem a bit perplexing. However, researchers have determined that these two lung diseases have many aspects in common.
Asthma and COPD remain two separate diseases with distinct characteristics and approaches to treatment, but an understanding of both diseases has helped us further our understanding.
Those with moderate to severe asthma, especially those who were diagnosed as children, may have an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to a 2015 study in the Journal of Thoracic Disease, 16% of people with asthma will develop “insufficient airway reversibility after 21-33 years” living with the disease.  This is because, if uncontrolled with medications, the inner walls of the airways can undergo “remodeling” over time, causing the airways to be irreversibly narrowed—this is where COPD comes in: when the narrowing of airways is no longer reversible. 
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that affects about 200,000 Americans according to the American Thoracic Society. In pulmonary fibrosis, the tissues inside the lungs—the airways and alveoli, or air sacs—become scarred and stiff. This stiffness means the airways cannot contract and expand as easily when taking in air, and cellular damage within the alveoli (air sacs) does not allow oxygen to pass as easily to the bloodstream, also impairing carbon dioxide from passed through as easily to be exhaled. This impairs the body’s ability to take in oxygen.
It is suspected that an exaggeration of the healing response in the lungs is responsible for the scarring involved in pulmonary fibrosis; the excessive scar tissue thus may be an overreaction to a normal process, impairing the body’s ability to take in oxygen and making breathing more effortful.
Pulmonary fibrosis most often develops between age 50 and 75. Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease in the family of interstitial lung diseases, which are diseases causing scarring in the lungs. Because the mechanics of the many diseases are similar, pulmonary fibrosis and interstitial lung disease may be used interchangeably by doctors and patients.
Sometimes, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis can be identified—when it cannot, this is known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. A variety of factors may increase risk of pulmonary fibrosis includes inhaled toxins such as cigarette smoking and exposure to air pollutants, taking certain medicines, genetic factors, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or acid reflux).
Pulmonary fibrosis can develop quickly or slowly, and its progression can be difficult to predict. In most cases, the disease progresses quickly, sometimes resulting of shortness of breath even at rest. Conversely, some people may have a more slowly progressing form of the disease and may remain stable for years. Pulmonary fibrosis, in addition to the progressive nature of the disease, can also result in lung collapse, infection, blood clots, and lung cancer. Pulmonary hypertension, respiratory failure, and heart failure can also develop as a result.
Pulmonary fibrosis has no known cure, and the life expectancy following diagnosis can vary widely based on the progression of the disease. The life expectancy following diagnosis is commonly 2-3 years, but maybe longer depending on the individual disease state. Often, no predictions on life expectancy can be made. By following proper treatment and with careful medical supervision, patients with pulmonary fibrosis may be able to extend the length of their life and improve their quality of life. Our next blog post will explore treatment options for pulmonary fibrosis, as well as the symptoms of this disease.
Pulmonary Fibrosis: Symptoms and Treatments
The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are caused by excessive scarring within the lungs, the hallmark feature of pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease. The scarring causes alveoli or air sacs, and airways to stiffen, resulting in the lungs being unable to deliver oxygen efficiently and effectively to the rest of the body.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis
Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis can range from person to person, and can include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Dry, hacking cough
- Gradual weight loss that is not intended
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Joint and muscle aches/pain
- "Clubbing" or widening of tips of fingers—this is caused by chronic lack of oxygen in the body, but it is not fully understood.
Diagnosing Pulmonary Fibrosis
Because pulmonary fibrosis belongs to a family of related diseases, a thorough medical workup by a doctor is the only way to diagnose pulmonary fibrosis. The doctor will explore the patient’s medical and lifestyle history, and order tests such as x-rays and CT scans, breathing tests, lung biopsies, and blood tests. Sometimes, pulse oximetry, an echocardiogram (a heart test), arterial blood gas test, or exercise stress test may be done.
Treating Pulmonary Fibrosis
There is currently no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, though lung transplant may be an option for some individuals depending on their health. Treatments currently available cannot remove or repair scarring that has occurred in the lungs, and instead tries to prevent more scarring from developing. Clinical trials may help patients experience new treatment options and may provide better future treatments for pulmonary fibrosis.
Treatment for pulmonary fibrosis includes:
- Medicine:Most commonly, anti-inflammatory corticosteroids such as prednisone are used to treat the inflammation associated with pulmonary fibrosis scarring. Controversially, immune system suppressant medications are also used which can help prevent continued scarring which can extend the patient’s life—these are a matter of debate in the pulmonary medicine community. These medications do not work in all cases and may have serious side effects.
- Oxygen Therapy: Supplemental oxygen delivered by nasal cannula can deliver higher concentrations of oxygen to the lungs, helping patients breathe easier by compensating for scarred, damaged lungs. By providing adequate oxygen, work of breathing is reduced, thus reducing symptoms of shortness of breath and encouraging active living.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Learning how to manage lung disease like pulmonary fibrosis is important to regain function for daily activities. Participants learn how to exercise, may learn about nutrition, and gain an understanding of their disease—they may also receive counseling or peer support.
- Lung transplant: For those under 65 in generally good health, lung transplantation can be considered, which can significantly improve quality of life.
Patients with pulmonary fibrosis can take an active role in staying healthy. In addition to the above, patients should take medications as directed by their doctor as well as adhering to all prescribed therapies and activities. Practicing other healthy behaviors such as getting a flu shot, quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, staying active, and consuming nutritious foods and a balanced diet can all help promote well-being, even with pulmonary fibrosis.
To learn more about pulmonary fibrosis, visit:
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about pulmonary fibrosis, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: December 12, 2018
- American Thoracic Society. General information about pulmonary fibrosis. https://www.thoracic.org/patients/lung-disease-week/2015/pulmonary-fibrosis-week/general-info.php
- MedBroadcast. Pulmonary Fibrosis. https://medbroadcast.com/condition/getcondition/pulmonary-fibrosis
- Mayo Clinic. Pulmonary Fibrosis: Diagnosis.https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pulmonary-fibrosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353695
- BioMedCentral. Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD). https://respiratory-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/rr162
- American Lung Association. Interstitial Lung Disease. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/interstitial-lung-disease/
- MedicineNet. Pulmonary Fibrosis. https://www.medicinenet.com/pulmonary_fibrosis/article.htm
- Canadian Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Research Projects: IPF GERD. https://cpff.ca/research/research-project-updates/ipf-gerd/
- American Lung Association. Pulmonary Fibrosis Progression and Exacerbation. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pulmonary-fibrosis/patients/living-well-with-pulmonary-fibrosis/progression-and-exacerbation.html
- UW Medicine (University of Washington). Pulmonary Fibrosis. https://www.uwmedicine.org/health-library/pages/pulmonary-fibrosis.aspx
- European Respiratory Journal. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: A disease with similarities and links to cancer biology. https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/35/3/496
- Pulmonary Hypertension News. Pulmonary Hypertension and Fibrosis. https://pulmonaryhypertensionnews.com/pulmonary-hypertension-and-fibrosis/
- Pulmonary Fibrosis News. Pulmonary Fibrosis Lung Transplant. https://pulmonaryfibrosisnews.com/pulmonary-fibrosis-lung-transplant
- Pulmonary Fibrosis News. Digital clubbing in pulmonary fibrosis. https://pulmonaryfibrosisnews.com/clubbing-of-the-fingertips
- American Thoracic Society Journal. Outcome of Patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/rccm.2104038
- European Respiratory Review. Pulmonary vascular and cardiac impairment in interstitial lung disease. http://err.ersjournals.com/content/26/143/160053
- American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Clinical Course and Prediction of Survival in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/rccm.201006-0894ci
- American Lung Association. What is the life expectancy of someone with pulmonary fibrosis? https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pulmonary-fibrosis/introduction/life-expectancy.html
- Clinical Immunotherapeutics. Immunosuppressant therapy for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03259365
- Medscape. Interstitial (Nonidiopathic) Pulmonary Fibrosis Medication. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/301337-medication
Research indicates that children who are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis early have better outcomes. Soon after birth, babies in many countries including the United States and Canada will have a simple blood test done to screen for cystic fibrosis (CF) and other diseases.  Early screening, detection and diagnosis lead to better outcomes for children with CF. 
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder which affects the lungs and digestive system—thick, sticky mucus is produced, impairing the function of the lungs and pancreas , an organ responsible for secreting enzymes responsible for proper digestion of food. Symptoms that arise from CF are due to this mucus.
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