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Interstitial Lung Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Management

Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) encompasses a diverse group of disorders characterised by inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. This umbrella term includes conditions such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, and connective tissue disease-associated ILD, among others. 

ILD poses significant challenges in diagnosis and management, often leading to progressive respiratory impairment and reduced quality of life. Understanding its complexities is crucial for effective patient care and research advancements.

What is Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) encompasses more than 200 conditions characterised by inflammation and scarring within the lungs.

It results in damage to the tissues surrounding the small air sacs (alveoli) and the adjacent blood vessels, leading to impaired oxygen transfer from the lungs to the body. ILD is alternatively known as diffuse parenchymal lung disease (DPLD).

What are the Types of Interstitial Lung Disease?

There exists a plethora of interstitial lung diseases, numbering over 200. Among these are:

  1. Asbestosis: Lung inflammation and scarring resulting from inhaling asbestos fibres.
  2. Bronchiolitis Obliterans: A condition leading to blockages in the smallest air passages of the lungs, known as bronchioles.
  3. Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis: Lung ailment induced by exposure to coal dust, also termed black lung disease.
  4. Chronic Silicosis: Lung disorder triggered by inhalation of silica mineral particles.
  5. Connective Tissue-related Pulmonary Fibrosis: Lung ailment affecting individuals with connective tissue disorders like scleroderma or Sjögren syndrome.
  6. Desquamative Interstitial Pneumonitis: Lung inflammation predominantly observed in smokers.
  7. Familial Pulmonary Fibrosis: Accumulation of scar tissue in the lungs impacting two or more family members.
  8. Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis: Alveoli inflammation due to inhaling allergens or irritants.
  9. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis: Lung condition characterised by unexplained scar tissue formation.
  10. Sarcoidosis: Disease causing the formation of small clusters of inflammatory cells in organs such as the lungs and lymph nodes.

You Can Also Read: Tuberculosis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What are the Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease can manifest with a range of symptoms due to lung damage, irritation, and reduced oxygen levels. These may include:

  • Difficulty breathing, particularly during physical activity or stair-climbing.
  • Persistent dry cough.
  • Abnormal breathing sounds.
  • Fatigue.
  • Chest discomfort or pain.
  • Clubbing of fingers or toes.

Symptoms vary, resembling other respiratory issues. Consult a doctor if you experience shortness of breath or any unusual symptoms. Early diagnosis enables treatment initiation for interstitial lung disease.

What are the Causes of Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease causes are categorised as known or unknown. Known causes result from existing diseases or exposures, while idiopathic cases lack identifiable causes or exposures.

Known Causes

  • Disorders of the connective tissue: lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  • Granulomatous diseases: like sarcoidosis.
  • Inhalation of certain substances: such as asbestos, silica, tobacco, and beryllium.
  • Allergic reactions to inhaled substances: including molds, fungi, bacteria, and bird feathers/droppings.
  • Medications or treatments: such as amiodarone, nitrofurantoin, methotrexate, and radiation therapy.

Unknown Causes (Idiopathic)

  • When ILD occurs without an identifiable underlying condition or exposure.
  • The most common form: is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

What are the Complications of Interstitial Lung Disease?

Interstitial lung disease may result in various complications, including:

  • Lung infections
  • Lung collapse
  • Respiratory failure
  • Right-sided heart failure
  • Lung cancer
  • Venous thromboembolism (blood clots in deep veins)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
  • Delayed growth in children

Early diagnosis of interstitial lung disease and adherence to your treatment regimen can potentially lower the risk of these complications.

You Can Also Read: Asthma: Understanding Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

How is Interstitial Lung Disease Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will diagnose interstitial lung disease through a comprehensive process involving various examinations and tests, such as:

  • Physical Examination: Your provider will conduct a physical exam, listening for abnormal lung sounds and assessing your overall lung function.
  • Medical History: They’ll inquire about your medical history, existing conditions, medications, and familial predispositions to certain diseases.
  • Exposure Assessment: Discussion on occupational and hobby-related exposures potentially linked to interstitial lung disease (ILD).
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: These assess lung functionality through breathing, blood, or exercise tests.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays or CT scans capture detailed lung images for analysis.
  • Blood Tests: Examining blood samples for indications of ILD causes.
  • Bronchoscopy: Involves inserting a bronchoscope to inspect airways for abnormalities.
  • Biopsy: Extracting lung tissue for microscopic examination, aiding in ILD-type identification.

What is the Treatment for Interstitial Lung Disease?

Treatment for interstitial lung disease (ILD) primarily addresses underlying conditions and symptom management. Below are the various methods used to treat this disease:

  • Corticosteroids: Prednisone and similar drugs help reduce inflammation.
  • Anti-Fibrotic and Cytotoxic Drugs: Azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, pirfenidone, and nintedanib can slow lung scarring.
  • Biologic Drugs: Rituximab and others may target autoimmune diseases causing ILD.
  • GERD Treatment: Medications to manage Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) prevent exacerbation of ILD.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Breathing exercises and physical therapy strengthen the lungs.
  • Oxygen Therapy: Supplemental oxygen via mask or nasal tube aids insufficient oxygenation.
  • Lung Transplant: Severe cases may necessitate transplantation.


Interstitial lung disease represents a complex array of conditions with a significant impact on individuals’ health. Early detection, comprehensive management, and ongoing research remain crucial for improving outcomes and enhancing quality of life. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced pulmonologist. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. 

At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a pulmonologist, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment at the CK Birla Hospital.


Is Interstitial Lung Disease Curable?

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) encompasses various conditions; some types are treatable but not curable. Management focuses on symptom relief, slowing progression, and addressing underlying causes, though a complete cure remains elusive for many cases.

Can Interstitial Lung Disease be Reversed?

Some forms of interstitial lung disease (ILD) may improve or stabilise with treatment, but complete reversal is rare. Early detection, appropriate management, and lifestyle changes can help mitigate symptoms and slow progression.

Can Interstitial Lung Disease Lead to Respiratory Failure?

Advanced stages of interstitial lung disease (ILD) can lead to respiratory failure due to progressive scarring and damage to lung tissue, impairing the ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide effectively.

Are there any Dietary Restrictions for Individuals With Interstitial Lung Disease?

While no specific dietary restrictions apply universally to interstitial lung disease (ILD), maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and staying adequately hydrated can support overall health and lung function.

Can Interstitial Lung Disease Be Prevented?

Prevention of interstitial lung disease (ILD) involves reducing exposure to known risk factors such as smoking, environmental pollutants, and occupational hazards. Early detection and prompt treatment of lung conditions can help mitigate risks.

Is Interstitial Lung Disease Contagious?

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is not contagious. It is a non-communicable condition characterised by inflammation and scarring of lung tissue, usually caused by environmental or autoimmune factors, not pathogens.

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