Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is not a single condition, but a group of different diseases. All of them show the same physical presentation- thickening of the interstitium (the tissue and space lining the air sacs). Interstitium is a very thin, lacy network that runs all over the lungs. It is so thin that it is not normally visible in an x-ray or CT scan. This network acts as a protection for the air sacs or alveoli. They facilitate the exchange of gases between the lungs and the blood. This normal functioning of the air sacs gets impaired due to the thickening of the tissue of alveoli. The thickening of the tissue results due to scarring, inflammation or edema (fluid collection).
Normally, our body produces the needed amount of tissue for healing in response to any injury. However, if this process gets affected, too much tissue is formed, which then covers the entire lung and forms a thick scar over the lung. As a result, one faces difficulty in inhaling the air and hence the lungs cannot expand fully. Therefore, the person experiences shortness of breath and persistent dry cough, as a consequence of labored breathing. The other parts of the lungs like airways and blood vessels can also get affected.
How Long Can You Live With Interstitial Lung Disease?
The survival rate for interstitial lung disease depends on many factors including the type of interstitial lung disease; your doctor is the one who can give the survival rate. The average survival rate for interstitial lung disease is at present 3 to 5 years.
Though the treatment cannot completely cure the interstitial lung disease, it can definitely be effective in slowing the disease progression to some extent. This will give some relief in breathing the air into the lungs.
If the causative factor for the interstitial lung disease is known and if it is possible to avoid that factor, like smoking or asbestos inhalation, then the primary step would be to eliminate that cause. Apart from this, other specific treatments like anti-inflammatory drugs, oxygen supplementation, anti-fibrotic drugs, immune suppressants and pulmonary rehabilitation would be incorporated by the physician, according to the type and stage of the disease. If none of these treatments work well, then the last option would be to go for a lung transplant, of course with the advice of the pulmonologist.
Thickening and scarring of the lung tissue in interstitial lung disease is an irreversible damage and the disease cannot be cured completely. However, medicines and other treatment options can slow down the progress of the disease, thereby allowing one to breathe in with lesser efforts. Lung transplant, again, remains an option if nothing else works.
Types of Interstitial Lung Disease
There are many types of interstitial lung disease, over 200 to be precise. They are classified according to various causes, like occupation and exposure related, auto immune disease related, smoking related and idiopathic (unknown cause) etc. Some of the types are given below-
Bronchiolitis Obliterans– herein, there is a blockage of the bronchioles. Bronchioles are the smallest airways of the lungs.
Chronic Silicosis- this is caused due to inhalation of mineral silica.
Asbestosis– in this type, the scarring and inflammation is caused due to prolonged inhalation of asbestos.
Black Lung Disease– this type is caused due to an over-exposure to coal dust.
Desquamative Interstitial Pneumonitis- this condition is more commonly seen in the people with a history of smoking and happens due to the inflammation of the lungs.
Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis- this type is caused due to an exposure to irritants and allergens.
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis– in this type the cause is not known. The scar tissue is seen all over the lung.
Sarcoidosis– in this type, small groups of inflammatory cells form in organs and lymph glands.
Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease
As interstitial lung disease is a restrictive disease, there is difficulty in breathing in enough oxygen. As a result, there is shortness of breath, especially after strenuous work or exercise. As the disease progresses, it becomes hard to breathe even if a person is at rest. A persistent dry cough is another symptom. These symptoms get worse over time.
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