Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease in which the lung tissue becomes stiff due to damage and scarring of the tissue around and between the lung’s air sacs which makes it very difficult to breathe. As the disease progresses, one becomes more and more short of breath—eventually needing supplemental oxygen to assist with breathing.
The scarring of the lung tissue in pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by many factors such as:
- Airborne toxins in the workplace such as asbestos, grain dust, silica dust, and bird and animal droppings.
- Radiation medications and certain antibiotics.
- Medical conditions such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and sarcoidosis.
In many cases a cause cannot be determined. In these cases it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Certain factors can increase the risk of pulmonary fibrosis including smoking, viral infections, Hepatitis C, HIV and herpes virus 6.
Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include shortness of breath, a dry cough, unexplained weight loss, and muscle and joint pain. Diagnosing pulmonary fibrosis can be a challenge since it causes the same symptoms and scarring as some other lung diseases. If you think you have pulmonary fibrosis consult your doctor or preferably, a pulmonologist. Your doctor can help refer you to a pulmonologist if you don’t already have one.
Currently, there is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis or medications to slow the progression of the disease. There are some medications that may slow the disease in some people, but none have been proven to be effective in the long run.
Some effective strategies for managing pulmonary fibrosis are:
Pulmonary rehabilitation. A standard treatment for pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary rehab includes exercise training, nutritional counseling, disease education and learning breathing techniques.
Eat healthy. This means eating foods low in sodium, low in sugar and low in fat. Eat smaller meals more frequently because a full stomach can make it harder for you to take a good breath.
Practice relaxation techniques.
Join a support group. It can help to get advice from someone who has been there or share your concerns with someone who is there now.
Get lots of rest. It helps reduce stress, curbs your appetite and can increase your energy.
Get vaccinated. Respiratory infections can worsen your symptoms so get the pneumonia vaccine and an annual flu shot.
Pulmonary fibrosis gets worse over time so it will benefit you and your family to become as educated about the disease as possible.
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Ref: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhbli.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/ipf/ipf_all.html