What is pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when scar tissue builds up in your lungs, causing the lung tissue to thicken and harden. This makes it difficult to get oxygen into the blood, and so you find yourself short of breath.
Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis manifests itself in the following ways:
- a dry cough
- unexplained weight loss
- shortness of breath
- muscle and joint pain
- swelling of the extremities of the feet or hands.
However, the symptoms of fibrosis may be different in each individual, depending on the course of the disease. The progress of the disease may accelerate and worsen, but can develop more slowly in some people, taking months or years.
What causes pulmonary fibrosis?
There are several causes of pulmonary fibrosis. These can be classified into three main groups: Occupational and environmental factors, radiation treatments, and medication.
- Occupational and environmental factors: Ongoing contact with the following chemicals can damage your lungs: Silica flour, asbestos fibres, hard-metal dust, coal dust, grain dust, bird and animal droppings.
- Radiation treatments: People who are exposed to radiotherapy to treat lung or breast cancer may have signs of lung damage months, or in some cases, years later. The severity of the disease can vary from case to case, depending on the proportion of the lung exposed to radiation, the total amount of radiation received, whether chemotherapy was also used, or if there was a pre-existing, undetected lung disease.
- Medication: Many drugs can be harmful to your lungs, including chemotherapy drugs, heart medicines, some antibiotics and some anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, in most cases, a cause of the disease cannot be found. This is known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Can it be prevented?
The best way to prevent pulmonary fibrosis is to avoid its possible sources of infection. Avoid contact with chemicals and understand the risks and benefits of the medication you are taking. Workplaces in which employees are in contact with chemical or hazardous substances must provide protection against inhalation.
What does treatment consist of?
Treatment for pulmonary fibrosis can include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplantation. Scarring of the lung tissue is not reversible, nor can the disease be stopped; it will continue to progress but at a slower rate. Some of the treatments mentioned may provide temporary improvement or slow the rate of the disease’s progression. To find out the most appropriate treatment, you need to consult a specialist in pulmonology.