Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease describes a large group of disorders, most of which cause progressive scarring of lung tissue. The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease eventually affects your ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into your bloodstream.


The primary signs and symptoms of interstitial lung disease are:

  • Shortness of breath at rest or aggravated by exertion

  • Dry cough


Occupational and environmental factors

Long-term exposure to a number of toxins and pollutants can damage your lungs. These may include:

  • Silica dust

  • Asbestos fibers

  • Grain dust

  • Bird and animal droppings

  • Radiation treatments

  • Indoor hot tubs

  • Some people who receive radiation therapy for lung or breast cancer show signs of lung damage months or sometimes years after the initial treatment.


Many drugs can damage your lungs, especially:

Chemotherapy drugs

Drugs designed to kill cancer cells, such as methotrexate (Otrexup, Trexall, others) and cyclophosphamide, can also damage lung tissue.

Heart medications

Some drugs used to treat irregular heartbeats, such as amiodarone (Nexterone, Pacerone) or propranolol (Inderal, Innopran), may harm lung tissue.

Some antibiotics

Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid, Macrodantin, others) and ethambutol (Myambutol) can cause lung damage.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Certain anti-inflammatory drugs, such as rituximab (Rituxan) or sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), can cause lung damage.

Medical conditions

Lung damage can also result from autoimmune diseases such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Scleroderma

  • Dermatomyositis and polymyositis

  • Mixed connective tissue disease

  • Sjogren’s syndrome

  • Sarcoidosis

Risk factors


Interstitial lung disease is much more likely to affect adults, although infants and children sometimes develop the disorder. Exposure to occupational and environmental toxins. If you work in mining, farming or construction or for any reason are exposed to pollutants known to damage your lungs, your risk of interstitial lung disease is increased.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

If you have uncontrolled acid reflux or indigestion, you may be at increased risk of interstitial lung disease.


Some forms of interstitial lung disease are more likely to occur in people with a history of smoking, and active smoking may make the condition worse, especially if there is associated emphysema.

Radiation and chemotherapy

Having radiation treatments to your chest or using some chemotherapy drugs makes it more likely that you’ll develop lung disease.


High blood pressure in your lungs (pulmonary hypertension)

Unlike systemic high blood pressure, this condition affects only the arteries in your lungs. It begins when scar tissue or low oxygen levels restrict the smallest blood vessels, limiting blood flow in your lungs. This in turn raises pressure within the pulmonary arteries. Pulmonary hypertension is a serious illness that becomes progressively worse.

Right-sided heart failure (cor pulmonale)

This serious condition occurs when your heart’s lower right chamber (right ventricle) — which is less muscular than the left — has to pump harder than usual to move blood through obstructed pulmonary arteries. Eventually the right ventricle fails from the extra strain. This is often a consequence of pulmonary hypertension.

Respiratory failure

In the end stage of chronic interstitial lung disease, respiratory failure occurs when severely low blood oxygen levels along with rising pressures in the pulmonary arteries and the right ventricle cause heart failure.

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