woman with asthma

If you find yourself short of breath, you might assume that asthma is the culprit. As a matter of fact, pulmonary fibrosis is frequently misdiagnosed by doctors as well. It’s true that pulmonary fibrosis shares certain similarities with asthma, but the fact of the matter is, if it’s pulmonary fibrosis, the effects and prognosis for your long-term health are much different. Here are seven differences between asthma and pulmonary fibrosis.

1. Causes

While both pulmonary fibrosis and asthma present as breathing difficulties, the cause behind both conditions is very different. Asthma is a chronic condition caused by both inflammation and swelling of the airway. This swelling is what causes difficulty in breathing. Because the airway is inflamed, it’s also narrowed, resulting in the inability to catch one’s breath.

Pulmonary fibrosis, on the other hand, is caused by scar tissue in the lungs. This scar tissue builds up over time, and the walls of the lungs thicken and cannot expand. This leads to a lack of oxygen and, as with asthma, shortness of breath.

2. Triggers

It is unknown how asthma patients develop triggers that cause their airway to become swollen and inflamed. Anything from dust and pollen to scented candles and household cleaners can set off an asthma attack. These triggers, however, are always environmental.

Pulmonary fibrosis which results in permanent scarring of the lungs can be caused by environmental pollutants (silica, metal dust, bacteria, animal protein), certain medicines (amiodarone, methotrexate), radiation treatment or other autoimmune diseases. Pulmonary fibrosis with no known trigger is known as IPF or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

3. Lung Capacity

Asthma is caused by inflammation and swelling, and the management of these factors typically effectively alleviates the condition. By and large, asthma does not affect a patient’s lung capacity, as scarring is not part of the disease.

Because scarring of the lungs causes pulmonary fibrosis, the amount of air the lungs can hold is compromised as the disease progresses. It is difficult to predict any one patient’s course of disease, because some patients’ disease progresses slowly and some experience rapid loss of lung function.

respiratory oxygen nasal catheter

4. Oxygen Therapy

While supplementary oxygen can be prescribed to asthmatics, this is rarely the case. Nebulizers are faster and more convenient for relieving breathing problems. Supplemental oxygen is typically only prescribed for those patients who suffer from life-threatening asthma attacks.

In the case of pulmonary fibrosis, oxygen therapy is not only useful but often necessary. Supplemental oxygen can alleviate shortness of breath and help battle the chronic and debilitating fatigue that’s often associated with the disease. Some patients can do with only a few hours of supplemental oxygen per day, while more severe cases may require oxygen therapy on a constant basis, even while sleeping.

5. Clubbing of Fingers and Toes

Asthma has no such issues, but a symptom of pulmonary fibrosis is the clubbing of fingers and toes. This is the result of liquid pooling at the ends of the digits, causing a rounded “club” effect. Typically, the fingernails lift from the nail bed, and then the digits begin to club.

6. Additional Health Complications

Asthma does not present any further health complications. When it comes to pulmonary fibrosis, as the disease worsens, there are risks of complications such as pulmonary embolism, stroke and heart attack. As symptoms become more severe and the lungs begin to fail, blood pressure within the lungs increases. This forces the heart to work harder, especially on it’s right side, which pumps blood through the lungs. The beginning stages include swollen legs, edema and fatigue. In severe cases, heart failure is a possibility.

three pharmaceutical bottles with different pills

7. Relieving Symptoms

Because asthma is only problematic when an asthma attack occurs, its management is generally straightforward. The condition is treated with corticosteroids and bronchodilators. These medications suppress the inflammation that causes asthma attacks. In general, if the illness is well-maintained, an asthmatic patient can go for months, if not years, without a severe attack.

In pulmonary fibrosis, the scarring of the lungs is permanent. Medications like prednisone, nintedanib and pirfenidone are often prescribed as treatment. But these medications cannot cure the disease, they can only slow its progress. Additionally, these medicines only reduce symptoms; they do not relieve them entirely. The philosophy behind prescribing these drugs is that they decrease inflammation in the lungs, which can prevent subsequent scarring.

Some patients find that enzyme therapy reduces their PF symptoms. Systemic enzymes may help reduce fibrin in the lungs, reducing inflammation, and may improve symptoms such as coughing. Further research is needed to know more about the effectiveness of enzyme therapy.

Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information received from us.

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