Pneumonitis refers to inflammation of the lungs. It occurs when an irritant enters the lungs and causes the tiny air sacs, called alveoli, to become inflamed. This inflammation makes it harder for your lungs to pass oxygen through the alveoli into your blood.

Common symptoms of pneumonitis include:

  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • An unproductive (dry) cough
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite

Certain hobbies and occupations can make your risk of developing pneumonitis higher. Causes of pneumonitis can include:

  • Molds and bacteria
  • Exposure to feathers and bird excrement
  • Radiation therapy
  • Some antibiotics
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Aerosolized mists and pesticides

To diagnosis pneumonitis, your doctor will take a detailed medical and job/hobby history to determine whether you could have been exposed to lung irritants. Physical exams and tests such as blood tests, chest x-rays, CT scans, bronchoscopy and pulmonary function tests are used to determine if it’s pneumonitis.

To treat pneumonitis your doctor will recommend removing exposure to the irritant to reduce symptoms. In additions, they may recommend:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Oxygen therapy to help with trouble breathing
  • Lifestyle changes to protect your lungs including avoiding tobacco smoke, pollution and other lung irritants

If left untreated, chronic pneumonitis can develop. This can cause irreversible lung damage, such as pulmonary fibrosis.

To help prevent pneumonitis, use dust masks and respirators while working in hazardous conditions. Try to avoid hobbies and activities that would expose you to lung irritants.