The lungs contain tiny air sacs (alveoli), which is where oxygen is absorbed. These air sacs expand with each breath.
The tissue around these air sacs is called the interstitium. In people with interstitial lung disease, this tissue becomes stiff or scarred, and the air sacs are not able to expand as much. As a result, not as much oxygen can get to the body.
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) can occur without a known cause. This is called idiopathic ILD. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is the most common disease of this type.
There are also dozens of known causes of ILD, including:
Six minute walk test (checks how far you can walk in 6 minutes and how many times you need to stop to catch your breath)
People who are heavily exposed to known causes of lung disease in the workplace are usually routinely screened for lung disease. These jobs include coal mining, sand blasting, and working on a ship.
Treatment depends on the cause of the disease. Drugs that suppress the immune system and reduce swelling in the lungs are prescribed if an autoimmune disease is causing the problem. For persons who have the disease from unknown cause, there is no known effective therapy.
If there is no specific treatment for the condition, the aim is to make you more comfortable and support lung function:
If you smoke, ask your doctor or nurse about how to stop smoking.
Selman M, Morrison LD, Noble PW, King TE. Idiopathic interstitial pneumonias. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 57.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.