Interstitial Lung Disease - Causes, Symptoms, Who are at Risk and Treatment
Health Education

Managing Interstitial Lung Disease

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 21 Jan 2016 - 14:34.


ILD or Interstitial lung disease is a group of lung disorders that cause progressive scarring of the lung tissue. Due to the scarring of the lungs, breathing becomes very difficult and therefore prevents sufficient oxygen from entering your bloodstream. This disease develops over a period of time although it is experienced suddenly.



The exact cause for Interstitial Lung is not known yet but it may include pollution, dust and toxins; bacterial and fungal infections; parasitic infections; radiation therapy; chemotherapy drugs; psychiatric medications; antibiotics; or other medical conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Other disease could include Sarcoidosis and Scleroderma.

Studies say that it may also occur due to an injury to lungs which trigger abnormal healing response. Normally the lung produces enough tissue to repair the damage, but in ILD, the repair process leads to scarring and thickening of the tissue around the air sacs (alveoli). Therefore, breathing gets difficult and subsequently leads to insufficient oxygen supply to the blood. Once the lung tissue is scarred it is irreversible, and difficult to regain full use of lungs; the medication can only slow the scarring.

ILD has a range of symptoms, the first being breathlessness, particularly after  any kind of slight physical activity. Some other symptoms include a dry cough, wheezing, chest pain and clubbing or curving of the fingernails. The symptoms occur gradually and therefore it is easily dismissed for reasons like aging or overweight. Over time the symptoms aggravate and by then it is pretty late to reverse it. Hence seeing a doctor at the first sign of breathing problems is very essential.

Complications include:

ILD can lead to a series of life-threatening complications, such as:

  • Pulmonary Hypertension or high blood pressure in your lungs affects the arteries in your lungs.  Pulmonary hypertension becomes progressively worse.
  • Right-sided heart failure (cor pulmonale): This is a serious condition and  occurs when your heart’s lower right chamber (right ventricle) is weakened .
  • Respiratory failure:  Severe low blood oxygen levels associated with high pressure in the pulmonary arteries leads to respiratory failure and the right ventricle cause heart failure.

Diagnosis is done through:

Chest x-ray: This may disclose some abnormalities in the lungs but this cannot confirm ILD, as other diseases can also create such abnormalities. Eg. Lung Function Tests show a decrease in total lung capacity, with reduced amount of air in the lungs after a deep inhalation. Another indicator of abnormality is decrease in diffusing capacity of lungs. However, these abnormalities are difficult to distinguish among the various underlying causes of ILD.

CT Scans far more effective and help better diagnosis as the severely damaged edge of the lung resembling a honeycomb is specific for one form of ILD. In some cases definitive diagnosis is possible which is based on examination of lung fluids obtained using bronchoalveolar lavage. (passing a saline solution into the lungs through the thin tube of a bronchoscope inserted into the mouth or nose).

Lung Biopsy:helps in definitive diagnosis and determine the severity of the disease. Less invasive biopsy performed through a bronchoscope can provide better results for definitive diagnosis.



Some risk factors that make you more susceptible to ILD include:

  • Age -More likely to affect adults, than children or infants
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants.
  • Smoking.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation
  • Inhalation of high levels of therapeutic oxygen continuously for more than 48 hours at times can harm the lungs.

Specific exercises and dietary changes can help relieve some symptoms.


ILD patients tend to lose weight due to the extra energy used for breathing and discomfort of eating. By selecting a a diet rich in nutrients and appropriate calories can help prevent this problem. Also eating at appropriate times and manageable portion can help provide the necessary nourishment. Small sized meals at frequent intervals help ease the discomfort as against 2 or 3 large meals. Also foods like salads and fruit are lighter and easy on the digestive system than calorie rich high fat foods.


Regular exercise regimen can prove to be highly beneficial although it may seem difficult with associated breathing problems. It strengthens your muscles and help them work better, it also leads your body to use oxygen more efficiently. A minimum exercise for 30 to 45 minutes at least three or four times a week should also help.

Yoga Asansas ( exercises) Asanas increase the strength and efficiency of muscles. Yoga postures that actively engage the chest, shoulders, neck, midsection, pelvis and spine will improve the strength and efficiency of the breathing muscles. Depending on an individual’s fitness level, forward bends, backbends, spinal extension and flexion, side bends and spinal twists can help a great deal. If exercises in lying down position cause problems, then it can be done in either standing or sitting position.

Some exercises for the lungs include:

  • Walking and biking – stimulates heart health which will help the lungs utilize oxygen more efficiently which reduces the shortness of breath and deeper breathing. Walking with good speed and riding a bike for long time period may help.
  • Swimming – Is an exercise that leads almost every muscle to work, but can be strenuous. People with lung damage should be able to ease into swimming, only then it is safe and effective. Caution must be observed.
  • Yoga – can stimulate your lungs through focused breathing. Yoga also helps the diaphragm to work out which operate with your lungs.
  • Breathing exercises – Deep breathing which fills the lung cavity is very effective. During exhalation, purse your lips and breathe slowly.  Then, try holding your breath for a few seconds before inhaling again. Repeat this exercise to see if you can increase the time you hold your breath.




The only way to prevent ILD is by avoiding potential triggers such as exposure to irritants and toxins in certain work environments like mining or metal dusts and asbestos. By wearing appropriate masks and monitoring exposure to irritants, besides having well balanced diet that improves body’s immunity, also helps to prevent ILD.

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.