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Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD's)

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) is an umbrella term used to categorize over 100 different types of pulmonary disorders that affect absorption of oxygen into the lungs. It includes a diverse collection of illnesses with a variety of causes, treatments, and prognoses. Individuals who suffer from ILD often have difficulty breathing and moving from place to place due to a consistent feeling of shortness of breath. Disorders classified under ILD are often characterized by scarring of the lung’s delicate tissues, and a subsequent dry, pestering cough.

ILDs may also be idiopathic, meaning there is no certain cause for the disorder. The most common form of idiopathic ILD is pulmonary fibrosis. As ILD is a progressive disorder, identifying a known cause for the disease is especially important. Because ILD can be caused by environmental factors, removing these triggers can slow the progression of the disease and damage on the lungs.

Interstitial Lung Disease Symptoms

As interstitial lung disease (ILD) is an umbrella term used to categorize a variety of disorders, in which the symptoms vary based on the individual condition. Some of the more common symptoms are shared by all ILDs, such as shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include:

  1. Dry cough
  2. Weight loss
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Acute pneumonia
  5. Joint pain
  6. Fatigue
  7. Cyanosis
  8. Abnormal enlargement of fingernail base
  9. High blood pressure (in certain cases)
  10. Heart failure (in certain cases)

These symptoms typically develop gradually over the course of many months or years. Individuals suffering from an interstitial lung disease typically experience shortness of breath after physical activity before other symptoms, which progressively worsens. The gradual onset of these diseases causes many sufferers to dismiss their symptoms until they become debilitating. If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with an interstitial lung disease, it is important to call your doctor immediately.

ILD Treatment

Treatments for interstitial lung disease vary according to the type of interstitial lung disease and its cause.

Antibiotics: These are effective treatments for most interstitial pneumonias. Azithromycin (Zithromax) and levofloxacin (Levaquin) eliminate the bacteria that cause most interstitial pneumonias. Viral pneumonias usually resolve on their own. Fungal pneumonias are rare, but can be treated with antifungal drugs.

Corticosteroids: In some forms of interstitial lung disease, ongoing inflammation in the lungs causes damage and scarring. Corticosteroids like prednisone and methylprednisolone reduce the activity of the immune system. This reduces the amount of inflammation in the lungs and the rest of the body.

Inhaled oxygen: In people with low oxygen blood levels due to interstitial lung disease, inhaled oxygen may improve symptoms. Regular use of oxygen might also protect the heart from damage caused by low oxygen levels.

Lung transplant: In advanced interstitial lung disease causing severe impairment, a lung transplant may be the best option. Most people undergoing lung transplant for interstitial lung disease make large gains in quality of life and their ability to exercise.

Azathioprine (Imuran): This drug also suppresses the immune system. It has never been proven to improve interstitial lung disease, but some studies suggest it might help.

N-acetylcysteine (Mucomyst): This potent antioxidant may slow the decline of lung function in some forms of interstitial lung disease. It does not improve people's survival from interstitial lung disease, however.

Other less often-used treatments for interstitial lung disease include:

  1. Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  2. Methotrexate
  3. Cyclosporine

These medicines suppress the immune system significantly. They may be used in some cases of interstitial lung disease while monitoring for side effects.