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Diffuse Lung Disease

Our Approach to Care

Feeling short of breath all the time could be diffuse lung disease. At MaineHealth, providers coordinate patient care with pulmonologists and other doctors. Patients get the best care for treating diffuse lung disease.

What is Diffuse Lung Disease?

Diffuse lung disease also is known as interstitial lung disease. With diffuse lung disease, there is scarring in the deep tissue of both lungs. It gets worse over time. With scarring, not as much oxygen can get from the lungs into the blood to be delivered to the body. There is no cure for diffuse lung disease but symptoms can be managed.

Diffuse lung disease can be caused from breathing in hazardous materials, such as asbestos, silica dust or coal dust. Other causes for diffuse lung disease include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other autoimmune diseases
  • Breathing in certain molds
  • Certain medications
  • Radiation therapy to the chest
  • Cigarette smoking can increase a person’s risk of getting diffuse lung disease, or make diffuse lung disease worse.

Diffuse Lung Disease Symptoms

The main symptom is feeling short of breath. This might make you feel like you need to breathe faster or that you need to take deeper breaths to get the air you need. Shortness of breath can get worse over time and show up during activities like bathing, talking or dressing. Other symptoms include:

  • A dry cough
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle or joint pain

If you have more advanced diffuse lung disease you might notice:

  • Blue lips, skin or fingernails
  • Enlargement of the base of your fingernails
  • Arthritis

A physical exam is done. There is a dry, crackling sound that can be heard through a stethoscope. Other tests may be performed, including:

  • Blood test

  • Chest x-ray

  • CT scan

  • Echocardiogram

  • Lung biopsy

  • Check of blood oxygen levels

How is diffuse lung disease treated?

There are different treatment options depending on the cause of diffuse disease.  For example, if your disease is caused by an autoimmune problem, your doctor will want to give you medicine to suppress your immune system. For the most part, treatment will focus on helping you breathe better and feel comfortable.  This includes:

  • Oxygen therapy

  • Medication, including steroids

  • Lung rehabilitation (physical therapy and exercise)

  • Nutrition counseling

  • Sometimes patients with interstitial lung disease may undergo evaluation for lung transplant

Your primary care provider may recommend that you see a pulmonologist for further evaluations and treatment.