Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease scars the lungs and makes breathing difficult.

Interstitial lung disease is an umbrella term for more than 100 chronic lung conditions that cause inflammation or scarring of the lungs — the scarring is known as pulmonary fibrosis. Scarring, which isn’t reversible, can make it difficult for you to breathe.

Interstitial lung disease can be caused by long-term exposure to substances including asbestos, farm dust, welding fumes, molds, gases or toxic fumes, and dust from coal, iron and silica mining. It can also be caused by autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and by some medications.

The condition is more common in adults, although it can occur in children.


There are steps you can take to help prevent some forms of interstitial lung disease, such as:

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking can play a role in causing interstitial lung disease.
  • If you have chronic indigestion or acid reflux, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Uncontrolled gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can play a role in the development of interstitial lung disease.
  • Avoid exposure to occupational or environmental toxins that may be found in farming, construction and mining. Talk to your employer about masks and shields to limit your exposure.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptoms of interstitial lung disease include a dry cough and shortness of breath when you’re inactive or that gets worse with activity. You also may have weight loss, fatigue and joint and muscle pain. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will examine you and perform tests such as:


At El Camino Health, treatment of interstitial lung disease is focused on improving your quality of life.

Therapies may include:

  • Oral steroid medications to reduce inflammation.
  • Education and exercise through pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Supplemental oxygen, through nasal prongs or a mask, to help you breathe better.
  • Lung transplantation.

Other steps you can take to feel better include:

  • Make sure you’re vaccinated against pneumonia and the flu. The symptoms of interstitial lung disease can be worse if you get a respiratory infection.
  • Quit smoking, if you smoke. Smoking and secondhand smoke make any lung condition worse. Your doctor can recommend smoking-cessation resources to help you quit.
  • Make sure you eat well. Symptoms can make eating uncomfortable, so some people lose too much weight. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian to make nutrition recommendations.