Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a medical condition caused by a variety of disorders or via exposure to harmful pollutants and toxins. The majority of these disorders ultimately lead to lung tissue scarring and difficulties with breathing. Asbestosis is the medical condition that causes ILD after asbestos exposure.
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Characteristics and Causes of Interstitial Lung Disease
ILD is caused after exposure to toxins, typically prolonged exposure, but it can happen after breathing in or ingesting a toxin only a few times. In addition to asbestos fibers, ILD has been associated with bird feces, grain dust, and silica dust.
Medical conditions may also cause ILD. Along with asbestosis, other conditions associated with ILD include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis, and scleroderma. Further, certain medications have been linked ILD, including:
- Antibiotics: Certain antibiotics, such as sulfasalazine and nitrofurantoin, can lead to lung damage
- Heart Medicine: Heart medication, such as propranolol and amiodarone have been associated with harming lung tissue
- Chemotherapy Medication: Chemotherapy drugs, including cyclophosphamide and methotrexate have been linked with lung damage
In some instance, the cause of ILD is unknown. When the cause is unknown, ILD is referred to as idiopathic interstitial lung disease or sometimes idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Once the lung scarring begins, it’s difficult for physicians to cure it. Medication is used to slow down the condition down, but the damage already there is irreversible. This is unfortunate for those who suffer from asbestosis as it generally takes 30 to 50 years before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed, and lung damage is usually always severe.
Interstitial Lung Disease Symptoms
ILD symptoms are essentially the same symptoms of asbestosis and other lung-related disorders:
- Coughing and chest pain
- Shortness of breath, more pronounced with exertion
- Fatigue and a general feeling malaise
- Clubbed fingers in some instances
Interstitial Lung Disease Risk Factors
Although ILD can affect anyone exposed to toxins or via other conditions, certain risk factors make people more susceptible:
- Oxygen Therapy: Ironically, oxygen therapy is a risk factor, but only when continuously inhaling high levels of therapeutic oxygen for 48 hours or more.
- Smoking: Smoking can increase the likelihood of developing ILD, but usually when another underlying condition exists.
- Age: Although ILD can affect anyone at any age, adults are more likely to develop the disease.
Diagnosing ILD has proven difficult and often tricky to physicians. Since it mimics so many other lung-related disorders, doctors usually perform a series of scans, tests, and physicals to diagnose it, including:
Chest X-rays and Imaging Tests
Chest X-rays are used to rule out other lung-related conditions, such as COPD, emphysema, and asthma. Chest X-rays cannot diagnose ILD alone, but it allows doctors to move to the next step in diagnosis if other lung diseases are eliminated.
A CT scan is administered to determine the amount of damage to the lungs, but again, a CT scan alone cannot provide a 100% accurate diagnosis. In some cases, an echocardiogram, which evaluates the heart’s pressure via imaging, is conducted to determine the amount of pressure on the right side of the heart.
Lung Tissue Samples
Analyzing the lung tissue is how doctors will generally diagnose ILD after ruling out other lung diseases. Lung tissue analysis is most often performed via a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy allows doctors to remove a small tissue sample by inserting a tiny tube down the patient’s nose or mouth and into the lungs. A bronchoscopy is considered a safe procedure, but often times the sample lung tissue is too small to get an accurate diagnosis.
A surgical biopsy may be performed if there isn’t enough lung tissue to get an accurate diagnosis from a bronchoscopy. However, a surgical biopsy is much more invasive when compared to a bronchoscopy, and is usually a last resort.
During a surgical biopsy procedure, a small camera and surgical tools are inserted in the patient’s chest via incisions around the ribs. This allows doctors to collect a large sample of lung tissue and in turn, it provides a better chance in getting an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Interstitial Lung Disease
Keep in mind, as mentioned earlier, that there is no way to reverse the damage already done to the lungs. Instead, treatment is often about relieving the symptoms, preventing further damage, and reducing the risk of additional medical complications. The most common forms of treatment include:
Oxygen therapy helps patients breathe better and reduces breathing problems when exercising. In addition, it also reduces blood pressure, promotes better sleeping, and helps prevent low oxygen level conditions.
Corticosteroids, along with medications that help suppress the immune system are usually prescribed to patients with ILD. Although these medications help ease symptoms, they don’t cure the disease and aren’t effective as a long-term solution.
Lung transplant surgery is usually a last resort and reserved for younger people in optimal health. It’s typically considered only when other forms of treatment haven’t helped.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Options
Pulmonary rehabilitation focuses on improving the patient’s quality of life through various exercises, breathing techniques, and a diet plan that centers on proper nutrition.
For asbestosis and ILD, the prognosis is good as long as the disease is caught in time. Since asbestosis is not cancer, the chances of recovery are higher, even though the scarring will be permanent. However, it will also depend upon the extent of scarring that asbestos fibers left in the lungs, the amount of asbestos lodged in the system, age, and overall health.
On average, patients can live decades with the disease as long as the correct treatment has been utilized.
Legal Help with Interstitial Lung Disease
If you’ve been injured by mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis, keep in mind that there is a good chance that you’ll qualify for considerable compensation. Don’t forget to fill out our form to get our free Financial Compensation Packet, filled with information on the experienced asbestos and mesothelioma attorneys in your area. If you have questions or need additional assistance, contact us at 800-793-4540.
Page Reviewed and Edited by Mesothelioma Attorney Paul Danziger
Paul Danziger grew up in Houston, Texas and earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. For over 25 years years he has focused on representing mesothelioma cancer victims and others hurt by asbestos exposure. Paul and his law firm have represented thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, recovering significant compensation for injured clients. Every client is extremely important to Paul and he will take every call from clients who want to speak with him. Paul and his law firm handle mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.