Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a name for a group of diseases that cause thickening of the tissues between the air sacs of the lungs. It can be acute or chronic. It includes different lung conditions, all of which affect the interstitium, which is a network of tissues covering the lungs and helps exchange of gases between blood and the air in the lungs. 

The interstitium can be thickened due to inflammation, scarring or filling up of fluid in the lungs. These conditions make it hard for oxygen to get absorbed into your blood. Low oxygen levels can cause you to feel short of breath, particularly when walking or exercising. There are several types of interstitial lung diseases, such as:

  • Interstitial pneumonia which is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi

  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which is a chronic form of the disease and the exact cause is unknown

  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is caused by inhalation of dust, moulds etc.

  • Acute interstitial pneumonitis, which is a sudden and severe form of ILD, and often requires life support

  • Desquamative interstitial pneumonia, which is caused by smoking

  • Sarcoidosis, which affects the heart, skin, nerve or eyes

  • Occupational lung diseases like  asbestosis, which is caused by inhalation of dust, chemicals and proteins​

One of the most common symptoms of interstitial lung disease is shortness of breath, especially when you’re moving about. This kind of shortness of breath is not the normal kind of breathlessness experienced after intense physical activity. You can differentiate it as breathlessness caused by doing even small tasks such as climbing stairs or performing daily activities that may not have posed a problem before. ILD usually sets in during middle or old age, so most people associates the breathlessness as a sign of ageing. You may notice common symptoms of ILD as enlisted below:

  • Coughing

  • Fever

  • Weight loss

  • Constant fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Discomfort in the chest

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Clubbing of fingers and toes​

If you are experiencing breathlessness after normal everyday tasks, or during activities that did not cause it before, consult a doctor for further investigations. Constant fatigue that is unresolved by rest also demands attention. Do not ignore your symptoms and consult with your physician immediately.
Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your ​visit beforehand. H​ere ​are some tips to help get you started.​

    The first thing your doctor will do is to get a detailed history and to do a physical examination. Then he/she may order blood tests to find possible causes of the disease. A chest X-ray and HRCT (High Resolution Computed Tomography) scan of the chest will give a detailed image of your lungs. If the results of these tests are not conclusive, your doctor will conduct one or more of the following tests:

  • Lung biopsy: a small piece of your lung will be removed as a sample to test for the cause of ILD.

  • Flexible bronchoscopy: a small camera attached to a tube will be inserted into your lungs through the nasal passage to observe the insides, or a small sample will be removed for testing. You will be sedated for this test with local anaesthetic. 

  • Pulmonary function tests: these are also known as breathing tests. It involves breathing into a machine that will measure your ability to breathe in and out. These are usually used to monitor a patient’s condition.

  • Pulse Oximetry: this is a test that attaches a small device on your finger to measure the oxygen saturation in your blood during light exercise (such as walking).​

  • Arterial Blood Gas Test: the test measures the acidity (pH level) of the blood. It also measures the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, indicating the lungs' capacity to move oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of the bloodstream.

  • Echocardiogram (ECHO): Echocardiogram (ECHO) is a test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create a picture of your heart. It provides information about your heart function and screens for the presence of pulmonary hypertension, a condition that can accompany ILD. ​​

The specialists at the H​​eart, Lungs and Vascular Service Line​ are equipped to offer patients comprehensive, state-of-the-art medical care.  The treatment of ILD is likely to be used as a means of damage control rather than removing the root cause. If the damage in the lungs is irreversible, it may not be possible to stop the progression of the disease by using drugs. Your doctor may prescribe medication and supplement it with additional treatments such as oxygen therapy to regulate and improve breathing and sleeping. In extreme cases, your doctor may suggest a lung transplant, but this is a last resort for patients who haven’t responded to anything else. ​

​The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​​

​Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.