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Damaged Alveoli: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Alveoli and How Does It Work?

Alveoli are balloon-like structures that play a role in respiration. If damaged they may be able to repair on their own but need immediate attention to prevent complications. Alveoli work by transferring oxygen into the bloodstream and taking carbon-di-oxide out. When a person inhales, the alveoli fill up with oxygen and on exhaling the alveoli are compressed releasing carbon-di-oxide.

Damaged Alveoli: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Causes of Alveoli Damage

When the alveoli get damaged, the breathing of a person gets affected. This can cause difficulty in getting oxygen into the blood and moving carbon-di-oxide out. This causes harmful chemicals to accumulate in the body.

  • Pulmonary emphysema is one of the causes of damage to the alveoli. It is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more than 14 million people in the United States have it.(1) It is a condition in which the airway to the lungs is limited which damages the lungs.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a condition that causes swelling in the lung stem due to inflammation and accumulation of fluids in the alveolar spaces.(2)
  • Asthma is another condition that is known to affect 15-20% of people in developed countries.(3) It traps the air in the alveoli and leads to inflammation. It also constricts the airways.
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a type of scarring of the lungs and also the alveoli.
  • Covid-19 is also known to cause alveolar damage.(4)
  • There are also various factors that increase the risk of developing health conditions that can damage the alveoli.
  • Smoking tobacco is the primary risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.(5)
  • Pneumonia and flu cause lung inflammation that can increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome. Sepsis, severe chest injury, inhaling vomit accidentally, and near-drowning are other risk factors of acute respiratory distress syndrome. Smoking is also known to increase the risk of this condition.
  • The risk of Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis increase with exposure to metals, some woods, dust, and genetic factors.(6)

Symptoms of Damaged Alveoli

Damage to the alveoli affects lung function. The symptoms of the damaged alveoli may vary depending on the underlying condition.

  • Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may experience shortness of breath, cough, wheezing and chest tightness.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome can lead to low blood pressure.
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis may cause shortness of breath, cough, and fatigue.
  • Asthma and wheezing may cause an increase in mucous production. These conditions are aggravated by certain triggers such as allergens, pollens, and pollution.

Treatment of Damaged Alveoli

The alveoli can self-repair over time, but the extent of repair may vary from person to person.

Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD can be treated by bronchodilator alone or by adding an antiinflammatory medication. The symptoms can be managed with supplemental oxygen, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, pulmonary rehabilitation, and surgical interventions.

Treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

There is no single drug that can treat acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Those suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome are ensured to:

  • Have mechanical ventilation
  • Receive medical attention with the facility of an intensive care unit
  • Be monitored and receive diuretics to prevent fluid overload
  • Receive nutritional support

If the cause of the condition is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are prescribed.

Treating Asthma

Asthma can be treated by bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Treating Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pirfenidone and nintedanib are the medications that may slow down the progression of the disease and also prevent flares. Over time oxygen therapy may also be required and in severe cases, a lung transplant may be needed.

The outlook of alveolar damage depends on the cause of damage, its response to treatment, and the extent to which a person works to manage the symptoms.

The alveoli may over time be able to repair, but the underlying conditions may keep the damage sustained. It is therefore very important to treat these conditions.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 3, 2022

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