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.
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
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.