Lung Fibrosis Explained


What Is Lung Fibrosis?

 Simply put, lung fibrosis is scarring of the lungs. The lungs can be scarred by a great number of causes; and some types of lung fibrosis have no proven cause. All lung scarring, however, results in a severe reduction in the ability to breathe. In many cases breathing problems are accompanied by an equal reduction in the body’s ability to process oxygen efficiently. This is when lung fibrosis can become fatal.


Types Of Lung Fibrosis

• Cystic fibrosis

Perhaps the type of lung fibrosis most familiar to the public is caused by cystic fibrosis. The lungs of people with cystic fibrosis are filled with a thick mucus that blocks the free passage of air. The constant presence of mucus in the lungs results in frequent lung infections, which over time will scar the lungs. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition, and affects thousands of children in the U.S. and worldwide. The life span of cystic fibrosis patients is much shorter than that of a healthy person.

• Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Scientific research as yet has been unable to establish a proven cause for IPF. The lung tissue of patients with IPF is extremely stiff, much thicker than normal, and severely scarred. This condition causes great difficulty in breathing which grows worse over time. As the symptoms of IPF worsen, the lungs become unable to process oxygen, and in effect, IPF patients suffocate from this lack of oxygen. There are currently no successful medications for IPF, and without a lung transplant, most patients pass away within several years of being diagnosed.

• Interstitial lung fibrosis

Patients with ILF exhibit many of the same symptoms as those with IPF. Both diseases will cause a chronic dry cough, difficulty breathing, and a general fatigue due to reduced oxygen in the blood. The difference between these two types of fibrosis is mainly in the options for successful treatment. Some patients with ILF will benefit from medications that reduce inflammation in the lungs, while those with IPF will not.


Causes of Lung Fibrosis

• Genetic causes

Cystic fibrosis has been proven to be an inherited disease. Researchers are also investigating possible genetic causes for IPF, although nothing definitive has resulted from this analysis as yet.

• Toxins

The inhaling of toxins, especially in work situations where exposure is long term, can lead to lung scarring. Workers who breathe in the dust from animal droppings, mold particles, metal dust, and asbestos may be at risk of damaging their lungs. Cigarette smoking is an additional risk factor for lung scarring.

• Medical treatments

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer patients can also cause lung fibrosis. The severity of the scarring is generally relative to the intensity and duration of the treatment. Some antibiotics, cardiovascular medications, and medications for psychological symptoms can scar the lungs as well.

Infections and arthritis

• Severe or repeated cases of pneumonia can cause damage to the lungs. Tuberculosis also results in inflammation of the lung tissue and fibrosis. And although a direct causal effect has not yet been established, almost 20% of people with rheumatoid arthritis also show signs of lung fibrosis.