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Interstitial lung disease - Life Expectancy, Prognosis, Treatment, Symptoms, Causes

Updated on September 9, 2013

What is Interstitial lung disease?

Interstitial lung disease is a condition that involves the inflammation of the lung tissue, interstitium. This is a surrounding tissue of the lungs that separates the alveola. The scarring of the lung tissue makes this condition progressive. As the lung tissues are scarred, irreversible effects are to be expected. Medications can be of help in slowing down the damage. However, in most cases people cannot regain the full potentials of their lungs.


Since there is involvement of the inflammatory process, lung scarring and thickening would be a clear result for this. The functions of the lungs are not met so as when it was healthy before. The mechanism of breathing is reduced in efficiency as well as the levels of oxygen in our blood. As the condition progresses, the lungs primary functions are not fully attained.

The symptoms for this condition entirely depend on the extent of damage that the lungs have acquired. The common signs of interstitial lung disease are shortness of breath and dry cough. Chronic symptoms appear such a reduced oxygen levels in the blood. This is a very alarming presentation, as it can affect the whole system in general. The affectation of the vital organs is possible such as the brain and the heart. Lack of oxygen in the blood can induce clubbing of the fingertips and a compensating heart, making it enlarged.

In serious cases, long-term complications may arise. Heart failure may develop since there is no sufficient oxygen exchanged by the lungs and heart. Pulmonary hypertension may follow, which is the type of hypertension that involves the arteries within the lungs. Another grave complication is respiratory failure, thus causing death to patient.

Other signs and symptoms of ILD are the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Abnormal chest sounds.


Lung injury is one of the triggering factors for this condition. Inflammatory process works its way as damage has been done to our body. Naturally, the body’s defense system would repair the damage. But in this condition, the repair is not fully attained and that the air sacs of the lungs are greatly affected resulting to scar tissue and thickening of the interstitial layer of the lungs. As a result, oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange is not attained.

Other precipitating factors are included in this condition. We have the occupational, environmental, treatments, medications, and other medical conditions as the cause of this. In most cases, it has been found out that there is no known cause for this condition.

Inhalations of substances that are causative to this condition are the following:

  • Silica dust, asbestos fibers, grain dust, bird and animal droppings.These substances are found to contain toxic materials and are said to be pollutants. Long-term exposure to this can result to this ILD.

A form of therapy can cause ILD, and that is radiation therapy. People who undergo radiation therapy for lung and breast cancer can acquire this condition. Prolonged exposure to the lungs can make this condition at its worse. The amount administered to patient is a factor to be discussed before treatment. When there is another lung disease, it may predispose the client to really aquire the disease.

Medical treatments such as medications can damage the lungs. These drugs would include chemotherapeutic drugs such as methotrexate and cyclosphosphamide. Amiodarone and propranolol are known to be harmful to the lungs. These are cardiovascular drugs. Certain antibiotics such as nitrofurantoin and sulfasalazine can induce lung damage.

Some medical conditions can precipitate the development of interstitial lung disease. Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disorder that can cause the ILD. Rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis and scleroderma are also disorders that can cause the disease.

Patients who are at high risk for this condition should follow preventive measures and treatments. The following factors would include those who are at risk for ILD:

Age – a vital factor for identifying the population at risk for interstitial lung disorder. Most of the adults are affected. But there are cases that children and infants can develop this disease.

Exposure to triggering factors – toxins found in the environment should be avoided for this can make a person at risk for ILD. Those who are in the line of work in mining, farming, and construction are the most at risk for ILD.

Cigarette smoking – a history of smoking can induce development or worsening of an underlying lung condition thus resulting to ILD.

Radiation and chemotherapy - those who undergo these treatments may develop interstitial lung disease.


Since this condition is involved with lung scarring, there is no viable treatment for it. The progression of the disease cannot be stopped in our current medical era. But we have treatment measures to alleviate the symptoms that the patient may be presenting.

Some medications are found to be a good treatment for the manifestations of the client. We have corticosteroids that stop the inflammatory process. Another drug such as cyclopsporine has been known to suppress the immune system from disease progression. However, side effects such as infection can develop for the immune system of the client is weak.

To resolve the patient’s inability to breathe effectively, providing oxygen is a must. This may not reduce the development of lung damage but it can assist the patient to breathe easier, lessen complications, reduce blood pressure and improve sleep.

Another goal for the patient’s treatment is to improve his/her daily functioning. In order to attain that, we need to apply the patient to a pulmonary rehabilitation. This can help the patient improve one’s endurance without difficulty. Improve the patient’s breathing techniques and this program would include nutritional counseling thus guiding the patient to his/her optimum level.

Surgical intervention may be the last intervention to be considered with ILD. Thus can be only possible for those young patients for their survival rate is higher than those who are aged.


There are various types of interstitial lung disease:

Sarcoidosis – an inflammatory induced condition that can appear to any body organ. But this condition usually starts in the lungs.

Pulmonary fibrosis – another form of scarring disease that affects the lungs. There is hardening and scarring of lung tissue because of “excess” collagen.

Silicosis – a lung condition that is precipitated by occupational factors. This is primarily caused by constant breathing in silica dust.

Berylliosis – this condition is caused by the inhalation of a product called beryllium in a form of dust or fumes. Longterm exposure can result to this condition.

Hypersensitivity pneumonia/pneumonitis – also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis is the inflammation of the alveoli. This is caused primarily because of hypersensitivity reactions from the inhaled dust. This is common to those people who are overtly exposed to the chemicals that contain harmful toxins. This is also referred as the farmer’s lung, hot tub lung and pigeon breeder’s disease.

Interstitial lung fibrosis – underlying lung conditions may have caused this condition.

Asbestosis – its root cause is from exposure to asbestos chemical.


The prognosis of the client is entirely subjected to the treatment course. As the patient is treated at the prompt manner, we can increase the survival of the patient. This can be associated with family support and the reduction of environmental and occupational factors.

Complications are known to arise as this disease progresses. These can be life-threatening thus making the patient’s prognosis undesirable.

Life expectancy

The life expectancy of clients diagnosed with this condition is very controlled. An average of 2 to 5 years has been noted by the research and study on ILD. Over time, it has been found out that drug therapy can be of good effect to patients. However, that does not conclude the finality of the disease progression. The therapies offered can only partially terminate the staging of the condition. Slowing down the progress is at hand for the mean time. Rare case reports were presented that some were cured of interstitial lung disease. But high hopes should not be at work for those with the disease. Since this is a lifelong condition that involves the decreased functioning of the lungs, we can only hope for the best with the given treatments by the doctor.

It is very important that once you are diagnosed with the condition, prompt treatment should be followed and that doctor’s orders should not be neglected. This can also avoid the patient from developing complications that may be the cause of death among them. Further studies are conducted in order to fully attain a good outcome from this disorder.


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I was diagnosed with emphazima/copd around 4 years ago and today diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. I have been trying for a month to see why i am in so much pain through my chest. Is there anything I can do besides my beathing meds and exercises. It feels like someone is squeezing my lungs and it hurts. Help if you can and thank you.

    • profile image

      enid pretorius 

      3 years ago

      My husband was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease on the 20th of September 2016 he was admitted to hospital for 8 days for cortisone meds on drip. came home with oxygen was readmitted on the 29th of Novermber 2016 and passed away on the 8th of December 2016. why was it so short had lung x trays taken in feb for a operation nothing was wrong can somebody please try and explain to me how does this happen????????????? please

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      I have Jo1 antibodies and one of the aspects of this illness diagnosis is Interstitual lung disease. Excellent article.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for good information

    • profile image

      kb mcdaniel 

      6 years ago

      My daughter is being told she may have this awful disease. I am hopeful it is not the case. She has been in and out of the hospital for breathing issues.

      Lately, she has been passing out unable to breath. She is in her early 40's has two children at home to care for. Her husband is very supportive, but has a job that requires his attention with the government.

      I was told today they took a biopsy of her lung and they suspect it is

      Interstitial. Not having any idea what that is, I came too my computer to find out. Thank you for providing all this information that will help me understand what to expect and be able to comfort her. Blessings

    • Elearn4Life profile image

      Darlene Matthews 

      7 years ago

      This was very informative and helpful information. Thanks.


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