Pulmonary Fibrosis: Symptoms, Risk and Recovery

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease of the lungs that occurs when its tissue becomes damaged and scarred. When the tissue becomes damaged, it becomes stiff, making it difficult for your lungs to work as they should. Which is why you experience more shortness of breath as your disease worsens.

Pulmonary fibrosis can lead to complications including pulmonary hypertension i.e., high blood pressure in your lungs, right-sided heart failure, respiratory failure, lung cancer and other complications like blood clots in the lungs, a collapsed lung or lung infections. Whatever the issue, if you have pulmonary fibrosis, it is imperative that you consult experienced specialists at the best pulmonology hospital near you.

Pulmonary Fibrosis Symptoms

The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis and their severity can vary from person to person. Some people have moderate symptoms that worsen gradually over months or years. Others can become ill very quickly with symptoms like severe shortness of breath that may last for several days. Some may become so ill that they have to be placed on mechanical ventilators.

Common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include shortness of breath (dyspnea), dry cough, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, aching muscles and joints, and widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers or toes (clubbing).

Causes of pulmonary fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis leads to the scarring and thickening of tissues around and between the air sacs called alveoli in your lungs, making it difficult for oxygen to pass into your bloodstream.

There are many causes for this damage. Let us look at some of the main causes of pulmonary fibrosis.

Occupational and environmental factors: Long-term exposure to toxins and pollutants like silica dust, asbestos fibers, hard metal dust, coal dust, grain dust, bird and animal droppings etc., can damage your lungs.

Radiation treatments: People who receive radiation therapy for lung or breast cancer sometimes show signs of lung damage. It might not be seen immediately after the treatment but may happen months or even years later. The severity of this damage can depend upon how much of the lungs were exposed to radiation, the amount of radiation administered, whether or not chemotherapy was used, or even underlying lung disease.

Medications: Sometimes, medications like chemotherapy drugs, heart medications, some antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs can cause damage to your lungs.

Medical conditions: Other medical conditions like pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, polymyositis, dermatomyositis, mixed connective tissue disease and systemic lupus erythematosus, etc., can also cause lung damage.

There have also been cases where experts have not been able to pinpoint an exact cause of pulmonary fibrosis in some cases. They are referred to as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Researchers believe that some of these cases may be hereditary or as a result of tobacco smoking or even exposure to certain viruses like COVID-19.

Risk Factors of Pulmonary Fibrosis

Certain factors make you more susceptible to pulmonary fibrosis include

  • Age – it is more likely to affect middle-aged and older adults
  • Sex – idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is mostly seen in men
  • Smoking
  • Occupations that expose you to pollutants like mining, farming, construction etc.
  • Cancer treatment
  • Genetic factors

Pulmonary Fibrosis Treatment

The scarring that has occurred to your lungs in pulmonary fibrosis cannot be reversed, and there is no proven treatment for stopping the progression of this disease completely. However, certain treatments may improve the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis or slow down its progression. Doctors will evaluate the severity of your condition before prescribing the best treatment for pulmonary fibrosis in your case.

Medication: Your doctor may recommend new medications like pirfenidone (Esbriet) and nintedanib (Ofev) to slow down the progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. There are also medications like Nintedanib, but these have other side effects like diarrhea and nausea, which is why doctors only prescribe them when necessary.

Oxygen therapy: It is usually used to make breathing easier and to prevent or lessen complications from low blood oxygen levels. Oxygen therapy is also provided to reduce blood pressure in the right side of your heart or to improve your sleep and overall sense of well-being. You can see some people using it all the time by carrying a canister along with them.

Pulmonary rehabilitation: It is done to manage your symptoms and improve daily functioning. These programs educate you about your condition and provide counseling and support. They focus on physical exercises to improve your endurance and breathing exercises to improve the efficiency of your lungs. These programs also offer nutritional counseling.

Lung transplantation: In some cases, doctors may recommend lung transplantation. It can considerably improve your quality of life and allow you to live longer. But it is not an option in all cases as transplantation involves other complications like rejection and infection.

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