Interstitial Lung Disease
There are several types of lung diseases that result from asbestos exposure. Interstitial Lung Disease, which involves tissue inflammation, is one of them.
What is Interstitial Lung Disease?
This term refers to the inflammation and scarring of the interstitium, which is the tissue that surrounds each of the air sacs inside the lungs. The tissue becomes inflamed, not the air sacs. When this occurs, the air sacs can no longer expand properly to take in all the oxygen the lungs need, and breathing becomes difficult.
Interstitial Lung Disease is what doctors refer to as a diffuse process, meaning it occurs throughout either/both lungs.
What causes this condition?
The most commonly accepted explanation is that it is the result of a mistaken response by the immune system to:
- Lung infections
- Exposure to asbestos
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Radiation therapy to the chest
- Chronic autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
Smoking is not a direct cause of the disease, but it may not only increase the risk for developing it, but it may also increase its severity. Sometimes Interstitial Lung Disease develops without a known cause. In this instance, it is referred to as idiopathic.
What are the symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease?
The primary symptoms of the condition when it originates from a known cause are:
- Shortness of breath that becomes more severe, meaning the patient experiences it without having to exert much effort
- Dry cough
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight loss
The characteristic symptoms of idiopathic Interstitial Lung Disease include:
- Clubbing, a condition in which the base of the fingernails become abnormally large.
- Cyanosis, a condition in which the lips, skin or finger nails turn blue because of low levels of blood oxygen.
How is this condition diagnosed?
If the patient is suspected to have Interstitial Lung Disease, the doctor will perform a physical examination during which a stethoscope will be used to check for crackling breath sounds. The doctor will also check to see if the patient’s nostrils flare during breathing, a sign for the need to take in more oxygen.
In addition, the doctor may order the following tests:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Lung biopsy
- Pulmonary function tests, which determine how well the lungs take in and release air as well as circulate oxygen
How is Interstitial Lung Disease treated?
Prognosis depends on the cause of the disease and its severity when it is diagnosed.
Treatment is also defined by the cause; for example, anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to suppress the immune system if the condition is caused by an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis.
In the absence of a defined treatment, symptoms may be alleviated by:
- Oxygen therapy
- Lung rehabilitation that includes learning new breathing techniques
Research suggests that CT scans are better predictors of the onset of Interstitial
Lung Disease than chest x-rays
In a study published in October 1991 in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, researchers described their findings from 10 years of evaluating lung function and radiology results in six non-smoking study participants who were exposed to asbestos. The scientists observed that the probability that diseased would develop was immediately indicated in five out of the six subjects when they took a high resolution CT scan.
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