What Is Interstitial Lung Disease?

Hundreds of diseases that cause scarring or inflammation in your lungs are known as interstitial lung disease (ILD)—also called pulmonary fibrosis. All of these diseases make it more difficult to breathe and get oxygen into your body. 

At University of Utah Health, our multidisciplinary team specializes in ILD. Our pulmonologists, chest radiologists, thoracic surgeons, and rheumatologists have access to the most up-to-date clinical trials. We belong to international research and education groups, which means your care will be informed by the latest developments in the field, including genetic research.

Interstitial Lung Disease Causes

Our specialists will make every effort to understand the cause of your ILD. This will help us tailor your treatment to your specific condition.

  • Genetics—You may have inherited a disease shared by other family members. U of U Health is actively researching the genetics behind ILD to help us better understand your condition.
  • Autoimmune diseases—Certain autoimmune diseases cause your body to attack itself. They can affect your lungs causing scarring and inflammation.
  • Environmental exposure—Medications, mold, mildew, dust, birds, or treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, are among the causes of ILD for some patients. 
  • Unknown—When doctors cannot find the cause, they may describe it as idiopathic. 

Interstitial Lung Disease Symptoms

Many of the signs of ILD are so subtle that people have a hard time recognizing them. They often attribute their symptoms to aging or being out of shape. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • shortness of breath that occurs during mild exertion, such as walking around a room; 
  • a persistent, dry cough that won’t go away;
  • weight loss; and
  • fatigue. 

When to See a Doctor

Temporary cough and shortness of breath can be caused by many things including viral infections. However, if your cough or shortness of breath does not improve over time, you should talk to your provider. Your symptoms do not need to be severe to receive a physical exam from one of our pulmonary specialists. We prefer to see you earlier in the course of your disease than later. 

Interstitial Lung Disease Stages

There aren’t actual stages to ILD, however, your disease may be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. ILD is progressive, so our providers like to begin your care as early as possible in the course of your disease. Our goal is to begin therapy to slow your symptoms down and prevent them from getting worse. 

What Are the Signs of the End Stages of Interstitial Lung Disease?

When your ILD becomes severe, you may be extremely short of breath and require additional oxygen as your condition gets worse. Your breathing will become more and more difficult, even after minor exertion.

How Is Interstitial Lung Disease Diagnosed?

At U of U Health, our providers are known across the country and around the world for their expertise in making this complex diagnosis. Our providers will want to know more about you, such as:

  • your health history, 
  • your family history 
  • your job and other exposures, and
  • your medications.

During your initial consultation, we will perform a breathing test also known as a pulmonary function test. You will blow air out through a tube. The pattern of airflow, the quantity, and speed will help us understand the condition of your lungs. 

We may also recommend an X-ray or high-resolution CT scan to examine your lungs. U of U Health has radiologists who are experts at interpreting these images. They will be able to identify the pattern of any scarring or inflammation in your lungs.

In some cases, we may recommend a lung biopsy to obtain more information about you. We have expert thoracic surgeons at U of U Health for this procedure if necessary.

Interstitial Lung Disease Treatment

ILD is treatable, but not always curable. The goal is to help you feel better and prevent your symptoms from getting worse. Our team of specialists may recommend a combination of the following treatment approaches:

  • medication to help decrease inflammation and reduce scar tissue in your lungs,
  • lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms,
  • oxygen therapy to help increase your levels of activity and make you feel better,
  • pulmonary rehabilitation to teach you how to exercise more comfortably, and/or
  • lung transplant for the most severe cases of ILD. 

Find an Interstitial Lung Disease Specialist

Make an Appointment at U of U Health

Call 801-581-5943 to see a U of U Health pulmonary specialist. A provider referral is not always required. If you have concerns about your condition, call us and we will advise you on the best options.