Interstitial lung diseases are conditions that affect the lung tissue and make it harder for people to breathe. They sometimes cause fibrosis, or scarring, of the lungs. Most of these conditions happen slowly over time, so you may not know anything is wrong until you become short of breath, develop a chronic cough or happen to get a chest x-ray for another condition.
Interstitial lung diseases can have various causes, including:
- Cigarette smoking, which is a main cause of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — a disease characterized by scarring in the lung tissue and shortness of breath.
- Autoimmune conditions, such as scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or myositis.
- Adverse lung reactions to medications or dust (for example, in mining).
- Exposure to inhaled substances, such as bird feathers or other organic materials.
- Unknown causes for some interstitial diseases, such as sarcoidosis — a condition in which tiny collections of inflammatory cells, or granulomas, grow in your lungs.
If you’re concerned that you might have an interstitial lung disease, the pulmonary care specialists in our Interstitial Lung Disease Program can help diagnose and treat your condition. They will see you promptly and learn about your symptoms and concerns. You’ll likely undergo diagnostic testing, including blood tests, chest CT scans and pulmonary function testing. We might also recommend procedures such as bronchoscopy or surgical lung biopsy for a more accurate diagnosis.
We work with a comprehensive team of doctors. At our multidisciplinary conference attended by pulmonologists, radiologists and rheumatologists, we discuss each and every one of our interstitial lung disease patients.
Treatment can include a variety of medications or strategies. We can quickly resolve some conditions by removing the cause, using a short course of corticosteroids or starting you on medications that suppress an overactive immune system. We treat other interstitial diseases, particularly idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, with medications such as pirfenidone or nintedanib.