Interstitial Lung Disease: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Interstitial lung disease is a general category that includes many different lung conditions and is a group of respiratory diseases that inflame, damage and scar the lungs. The inflammation and scarring make it hard to get enough oxygen. Medications may slow the damage of interstitial lung disease, but in some cases some people never regain full use of their lungs.

Interstitial lung disease occurs when injuries to your lungs trigger an abnormal healing response. Ordinarily, your body generates just the proper amount of tissue to repair damage, but someone who suffers from interstitial lung disease, the repair process goes awry and the tissue around the air sacs becomes scarred and thickened and makes it difficult for oxygen to pass into your bloodstream. Interstitial lung disease can be triggered by various factors — including airborne toxins, drugs and some medical treatments. In most cases, the causes are unknown.

Long-term exposure to a number of toxins and pollutants can damage your lungs. These may include:
  • Pneumoconiosis (Black lung disease)
  • Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (Farmer’s lung)
  • Asbestosis fiber
  • Siderosis (Iron from mines or welding fumes)
  • Silica dust
Treatment depends on the exposure and the stage of Interstitial Lung Disease. It may involve oxygen therapy, medications, and in severe cases a lung transplant. Some treatments may improve symptoms temporarily or slow the disease's progress while others help improve quality of life.

Using oxygen therapy can't stop interstitial lung disease but it can make breathing and exercise easier, prevent or lessen complications from low blood oxygen levels, reduce blood pressure in the right side of your heart, and improve your sleep and sense of well-being.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about interstitial lung disease, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: August 1, 2023


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