The symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis are important to know. These symptoms can vary from very mild–to very severe. Symptoms to be aware of include:
Shortness of breath which usually appears during exercise, progressing to shortness during rest.
Cough without sputum which is dry, irritating and persistent.
Clubbing (enlargement) of the fingertips: present in 10-15% of all people with fibrosis.
Velcro crackles, noises in the lungs that sound like opening or closing of velcro. Not every one has these noises.
Hypoxemia, which is a low amount of oxygen in the blood.
Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis
Occupational/environmental exposure to asbestos, silica, metal dusts, bacteria, fumes animal dusts or gases.
Occupational related disease such as asbestosis, silicosis, Farmers Lung, Bird Breeder's Lung.
Lung infections like TB and others.
Drugs may cause pulmonary fibrosis, consult your doctor about any medications that you are taking.
Connective tissue, collagen, vascular diseases such as rheumatoid arthitis, systemic sclerosis, genetic not as common.
Diseases that Cause Pulmonary Fibrosis
Sarcoidosis involves the growth of granulomas, or areas of inflammatory cells. This disease can attack any body organ, but is most often found in the lungs. Cause unknown. Symptoms may include dry cough, shortness of breath, mild chest pain, tiredness, weakness, and weight loss. It is most common in young adults age 20-40 years old.
Hystiocytosis X begins in the bronchioles and damages small blood vessels. A diagnosis may be made by bronchoalveolar lavage, removal of respiratory tract cells for testing. Symptoms include dry cough without sputum, difficulty breathing with activity, and/or chest pain. The cause is unknown, but most people affected are or used to be cigarette smokers.
How Can My Doctor Tell if it's Pulmonary Fibrosis? Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan will be developed to control your symptoms and help you feel better. You will be monitored on your treatment plan and changes will be made as needed. Early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment. Several ways for doctors to diagnose cases of pulmonary fibrosis include:
Patient history is the most important tool in diagnosis. It is taken to identify risk factors such as environmental and occupational factors, hobbies, legal and illegal drug use, arthritis, and immune system diseases.
Physical exam uses diagnostic tests such as chest x-rays, computed tomography (CT), resting and exercising pulmonary function tests, and blood tests to detect oxygen levels. These tests help rule out other possible lung diseases.
Bronchoalveolar lavage is used to identify any inflammatory processed in lung tissue and to rule out infections and malignancies (cancer) as a cause of the symptoms. This procedure involves the removal and examination of cells and proteins through lung washings from the lower respiratory tract.
Bronchoscopy is the examination of air passages of the lung for accuracy in diagnosis. This is done by placing a flexible tube with a light and an optical lens through the nose or mouth into the trachea and bronchi.
Lung Biopsy is a surgical procedure that removes a sample of lung tissue to establish a diagnosis. This will allow for a measurement of how much inflammation and fibrosis is present and how far the disease has advanced.
Can Pulmonary Fibrosis be Treated?
There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis. The aim of treatment is to reduce inflammation and prevent more scarring.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Treatment
Corticosteroids are used to treat acute tissue inflammation.
Immunosuppressants are used to suppress the immune system. Some success in stopping the growth of the disease in some patients who only respond to unacceptably high doses of corticosteroids.
Penacillamine has helped a few patients who have not responded to other therapies.
Oxygen therapy may be needed for patients with very low blood oxygen.
Oxygen therapy is decided by your doctor.
Regular exercise increases muscle strength and breathing ability, and improves strength.
Flu and pneumonia vaccine is recommended for patients who have any lung diseases in order to prevent infection.
Rehab, education and support groups are recommended to improve activity levels.