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Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Treatment

Usually, the scarring of the lungs that occurs with ILD is not reversible, but treatments that improve lung function are available for diseases which include active inflammation. The purpose of treatment for ILD is usually to slow or stop the progression of the disease or to improve quality of life, but in some cases treatment can reverse the effects of ILD. Treatment may vary depending on the underlying cause of the ILD.

The following treatments may be used alone or in combination for patients with ILD.

Lifestyle

If you smoke, the most important thing you can do is quit smoking. Your doctor can help you by recommending programs and products that can help you quit. In addition, joining a support group with other people who are quitting smoking can be very helpful.

You should also avoid secondhand smoke and places where other lung irritants are present as much as possible. These include spaces where dust, strong odors, allergens, and toxins may be present in the air.

Physical activity can help to strengthen the muscles used in breathing and improve your overall wellness. Your doctor can help determine what kinds of activity are safe for you.

In addition, your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation, which encompasses a variety of methods designed to improve the well-being of people with chronic breathing problems. Rehab may include an exercise program, training in managing ILD, nutritional counseling, and psychological counseling.

Medicines

Depending on the underlying cause of your ILD, your doctor may recommend different medications. Some of the medications used to treat ILD include:

  • Inhaled or oral corticosteroid medications: can reduce the immune system activity that causes scarring and inflammation in the lungs in some forms of ILD.
  • Antibiotics: respiratory infections can worsen ILD. Antibiotics treat these infections.
  • Disease-specific therapies: such as medicines specifically for pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Immunomodulators: therapies that alter the way the immune system functions. 

Surgery and Other Treatments

Surgery is usually a last resort for people who have more severe ILD that is not improved with medication or other treatments:

  • Lung Transplantation: reserved for treating patients with very severe ILD who do not have other treatment options. A lung transplant involves removing a damaged lung and replacing it with a healthy lung from a deceased donor. Lung transplants can significantly improve lung function and quality of life, but involve many risks, including the risk of infection and even death if the body rejects the transplanted lung.

Doctors may also recommend oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy can help people with ILD who have low levels of oxygen in their blood to breathe better. The treatment usually involves administering oxygen through two small tubes that enter the nose (nasal prongs). Some people who receive oxygen therapy need it all the time, while others only need it at certain times. Oxygen therapy does not stop the damage to the lungs associated with ILD, but it does have several benefits, including:

  • Making it easier to breathe and exercise
  • Preventing or reducing the complications that can arise with low blood oxygen levels
  • Reducing the blood pressure in the right side of the heart
  • Improving sleep and general quality of life