What is the treatment for interstitial lung disease?

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Interstitial lung disease describes a large group of disorders, most of which cause progressive scarring of lung tissue. The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease eventually affects your ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into your bloodstream.

Interstitial lung disease can be caused by long-term exposure to hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Some types of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, also can cause interstitial lung disease. In some cases, however, the causes remain unknown.

Once lung scarring occurs, it's generally irreversible. Medications may slow the damage of interstitial lung disease, but many people never regain full use of their lungs. Lung transplant is an option for some people who have interstitial lung disease.

The lung scarring that occurs in interstitial lung disease can't be reversed, and treatment will not always be effective in stopping the ultimate progression of the disease. Some treatments may improve symptoms temporarily or slow the disease's progress. Others help improve quality of life.

Because many of the different types of scarring disorders have no approved or proven therapies, clinical studies may be an option to receive an experimental treatment.

1. Medications

Intense research to identify treatment options for specific types of interstitial lung disease is ongoing. Based on currently available, scientific evidence, however, your doctor may recommend:

  • Corticosteroid medications. Many people diagnosed with interstitial lung diseases are initially treated with a corticosteroid (prednisone), sometimes in combination with other drugs that suppress the immune system. Depending on the cause of the interstitial lung disease, this combination may slow or even stabilize disease progression.
  • Medications that slow the progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The medications pirfenidone (Esbriet) and nintedanib (Ofev) may slow the rate of disease progression. Treatment-related side effects may be significant. Talk through the pros and cons of these medications with your doctor.
  • Medications that reduce stomach acid. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects the majority of people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and is associated with worsening lung damage. If you have symptoms of acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe GERD therapies that reduce stomach acid, including H-2-receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors such as lansoprazole (Prevacid 24HR), omeprazole (Prilosec OTC) and pantoprazole (protonix).

2. Oxygen therapy

Using oxygen can't stop lung damage, but it can:

  • Make breathing and exercise easier
  • Prevent or lessen complications from low blood oxygen levels
  • Reduce blood pressure in the right side of your heart
  • Improve your sleep and sense of well-being

You're most likely to receive oxygen when you sleep or exercise, although some people may use it round-the-clock.

3. Pulmonary rehabilitation

The aim of pulmonary rehabilitation is not only to improve daily functioning but also to help people with intersitial lung disease live full, satisfying lives. To that end, pulmonary rehabilitation programs focus on:

  • Physical exercise, to improve your endurance
  • Breathing techniques that improve lung efficiency
  • Emotional support
  • Nutritional counseling

4. Surgery

Lung transplantation may be an option of last resort for some people with severe interstitial lung disease who haven't benefited from other treatment options.

Thank you for this!  My brother was just diagnosed with this disease and this is the first thing I've read which I can actually understand!
Thank you for this clear and understandable information. I’m in the hospital now and just diagnosed with this yesterday. I’m terrified and only 50. I can’t leave my kids now. They are young adults and giving me grand babies and my youngest isn’t graduating from college until Dec 2020. I’m scared to death and feel so alone
Hi, I understand what you are worried about, but anyway you have to stay positive. I have had interstitial lung disease for about 5 years. I am suffering from severe cough, sometimes even have trouble breathing. My doctor suggests that performing pranayama as much as possible is helpful. Actually it helps improve my symptoms with oxygen therapy. I receive oxygen when I sleep or exercise. It makes my breathing and exercise easier.

As I know from my doctor, interstitial lung disease can vary from person to person. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. One of the most common types of interstitial lung diseases is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The average survival for people with this type is currently 3 to 5 years. It can be longer with certain medications. People with other types of interstitial lung disease, like sarcoidosis, can live much longer. And getting a lung transplant can also improve the survival.
I feel for you.I am suffering with breathing problems at 53. I think from inhaling cement dust. My tests are pointing to restrictive lung disease. I have two kids and feeling alone myself. I am praying for you. I think we are both going to make it through when push comes to shove. Stay strong in mind and body.
I feel for you, too. My grandma also has difficulties inhaling oxygen and it turns out to be extrinsic restrictive lung disease. Her breathing rate is rather high, or her oxygen demands won’t be met. Besides that, she has chronic cough, sometimes with white sputum. It is believed to have something to do with her weakened muscles and the stiffening of the chest. Although the scarring, thickening or loos of elasticity associated with restrictive lung disease it irreversible, the impact of it can be reduced. So, her spirits are rather high and she is still optimistic. She is now doing at-home exercises and having walk after meals. Hope both of you can remain this optimism and become healthier.
Thank you all for the info.  Been looking to chat with someone Re my lung problem.  Trying hard to feel better each day and not given up... so, appreciate your encouragements.  I am 82 and feel help is just around the corner.  I am a surviver.