Scars present on the lung tissue can cause the lung tissue to thicken, thus losing its otherwise healthy elasticity. Scars on the lung tissue can be a result of lung injury. There are many causes for lung scars, but the fact is that nothing can be done once the lung tissue becomes scarred.
Nevertheless, our lungs are quite resilient, and they can endure small, non-invasive scars without getting affected. But is it necessary to remove lung scars to ensure the proper functioning of your lungs? Read on to find out more.
Is It Necessary To Remove Lung Scars?
Lung scars are usually a result of an injury to the lung. There are many causes of lung scars, but the fact remains that once the lung tissue is scarred, nothing can be done to reverse the scarring. The good thing, though, is that our lungs are naturally resilient and are able to endure small, non-invasive scars with no adverse effect, and this is unlikely to affect the functioning of the lungs. Scarring of the lungs is also known as pulmonary fibrosis.(1)
Doctors don’t generally treat lung scars that are stable. Removal of these scars is also not necessary, even if the scar keeps on growing. In such conditions, doctors are going to focus on treating the underlying disease that has caused the scarring and try to slow down or stop its progression.
Are Lung Scars a Serious Condition?
If there is scarring in small areas of the lung tissue, then this is not usually considered to be dangerous. However, they should not be having an effect on your quality of life or your life expectancy.
However, expanding and widespread scarring on the lung tissue is an indication of an underlying medical problem.(2) This underlying health condition might impact your overall health as well as the quality of your life and life expectancy. In such cases, doctors will first determine the cause of the scarring and treat the underlying condition.
In cases of extreme lung scarring, doctors may need to replace the lung itself surgically. This procedure is known as a lung transplant.
Causes of Lung Scarring
There are several causes of lung scarring. One of the most common causes of lung scarring is an interstitial lung disease.(3) Interstitial lung disease causes inflammation of the air sacs of the interstitium, which is the web of tissue that surrounds the air sacs in the lungs. This inflammation can sometimes lead to a buildup of scar tissue within the lungs.
Other conditions that may lead to lung scarring include:
- Previous viral infections or pneumonia
- Acid reflux
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Radiation therapy to the chest cavity
- Exposure to silica or asbestos
- Old age
In some rare cases, there is a family history of pulmonary fibrosis.
How Can Lung Scars Be Treated?
Removing a lung scar directly is, of course, not an option. Instead, your doctor is first going to assess the level of scarring and determine whether any further steps are required to address the issue.
X-ray images are used to determine the stability and size of the scarring. Your doctor will also check to determine if the scar is expanding. In order to do this, they will compare a previous chest X-ray with a newer one to check if the areas of scarring have increased. In some cases, your doctor may also choose to use a CT scan to get a better view of the scarring, in addition to X-rays.
If the scarring is localized, meaning it is only in one area of the lung, or it has remained the same size for quite some time, then it is likely that the scar is harmless. Scars of such nature are usually a result of a previous infection. If the infection that caused such type of localized scarring was treated successfully, then no further treatment is necessary.
However, in cases where the scarring is more widespread or the scar is expanding, it might indicate that there is regular exposure to factors that can cause lung scarring. This can include elements such as smoking, medications, or environmental toxins. Medical conditions, such as interstitial lung disease, can also lead to scarring.
In such cases, your doctor will recommend additional diagnosis tests, perhaps a lung biopsy, to get more information for confirming a diagnosis. Your doctor will then develop a treatment plan for managing the underlying health condition to prevent further scarring and to slow down the growth of the scars.
Is it Possible to Prevent Further Lung Scarring?
It is possible to prevent further lung scarring in some cases. If you are able to prevent the scarring from progressing further, then it might be possible to maintain lung function.
In some cases, you might be able to decrease your risk of further lung scarring in the following ways:
By quitting smoking: There are many chemicals present in cigarette smoke that promote inflammation, infections, and other diseases that can lead to scarring.
By minimizing or avoiding contact with harmful substances such as silica and asbestos
By following the proper course of medication if you have a lung infection. Also, stick to the doctor’s advice for the treatment course and follow up check-up to ensure that the infection has cleared up entirely.
By following your disease management plan if the lung scarring is due to chemotherapy or radiation therapy for lung cancer treatment or any other chronic condition. This may also include immunotherapy.
Can Lung Scarring Cause Any Complication?
Extensive scarring of the lung may prove to be life-threatening and can also cause complications such as:
- Lung infection
- Blood clots in the lungs
- Respiratory failure
- Collapsed lung (a condition known as pneumothorax)
- Right-sided heart failure
- High blood pressure within the lungs
Most small lung scars are usually beginning, but cases where scarring is growing or is deep enough to affect your health, need to be treated. Such type of extensive scarring could be an indication that you have an underlying medical condition, such as interstitial lung disease or pulmonary fibrosis. These need to be treated in order to bring the scarring under control and prevent the progression of the scars. In cases where medication is unable to control or slow down the ongoing scarring, a lung transplant might be necessary.
- nhs.uk. 2020. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis/> [Accessed 31 March 2020].
- Yu, Y.Y., Pinsky, P.F., Caporaso, N.E., Chatterjee, N., Baumgarten, M., Langenberg, P., Furuno, J.P., Lan, Q. and Engels, E.A., 2008. Lung cancer risk following detection of pulmonary scarring by chest radiography in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Archives of internal medicine, 168(21), pp.2326-2332.
- Crystal, R.G., Gadek, J.E., Ferrans, V.J., Fulmer, J.D., Line, B.R. and Hunninghake, G.W., 1981. Interstitial lung disease: current concepts of pathogenesis, staging and therapy. The American journal of medicine, 70(3), pp.542-568.