Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when the tissue in the lungs becomes scarred. The damaged tissue becomes stiff and thick and makes it difficult for the lungs to work properly. The condition is characterized by shortness of breath, tiredness, a dry cough and unexplained weight loss.
Airborne toxins, cancer treatments and medical conditions, such as pneumonia or rheumatoid arthritis, can cause pulmonary fibrosis to occur. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease. However, treating the disease with the following options can help to prevent the condition from worsening and improve symptoms.
Because people who suffer from pulmonary fibrosis often experience breathlessness, participating in pulmonary rehabilitation can help to restore lung function. The rehabilitation consists of exercises that will help to condition and strengthen the lungs so a patient can function in their daily life without feeling breathless. Both breathing exercises and exercise training are part of pulmonary rehabilitation as well as techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
As a part of rehabilitation, many doctors recommend lifestyle changes to patients such as managing their weight, quitting smoking and getting vaccinated to prevent influenza and pneumonia from occurring and worsening the condition.
Corticosteroids can be prescribed by a doctor to suppress the immune system, which will decrease inflammation in the lungs and make breathing easier. Acetylcysteine is often prescribed along with corticosteroids. Acetylcysteine is derived from a naturally occurring amino acid. Taken together they can help slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis.
Pirfenidone is an anti-inflammatory that can also be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the lungs and improve breathing. Additionally, N-acetylcysteine is another popular option. It is an antioxidant that is taken by mouth several times a day and it can help to prevent lung damage.
For younger patients who are no longer responding to other treatment options, a lung transplantation has been proven to improve lung function and quality of life. In one study, 79 percent of patients were still living one year after the surgery and 39 percent were still alive five years later. Patients must first be carefully evaluated before being placed on the transplant waiting list. They must prove that they have adhered to other treatments, are in good health, are at an ideal weight and have a support system in the form of family and friends.
Treatment options, such as pulmonary rehabilitation and medications, can be changed by a doctor as the disease progresses. Because pulmonary fibrosis is different from person to person, treatment plans should be individualized by each patient’s situation and disease stage. A medical doctor will be able to decide what options are best for each patient and if a lung transplantation is the best option for treating the disease.