Our body is a complex system of muscles, bones, nerves, organs and blood vessels that work together to allow us to do truly extraordinary things. When you realize how many systems coordinate to let you brush your teeth or tie your shoes, for example, even the daily habits many of us take for granted seem phenomenal.
The lungs, however, are special. Did you know that breathing is the only thing your body can do both voluntarily and involuntarily? This means you can control the action of respiration yourself and your body can control it automatically, too. Think about it: You can breathe on a 5-count or hold your breath. Your body also keeps you breathing while you’re asleep or unconscious.
Lung disease can cripple your ability to do something as simple and essential as breathing. These diseases can affect all the anatomical parts of the lungs and the respiratory system, from the trachea to the diaphragm.
In this article, we’re focusing on diseases that affect the interstitium. The interstitium is a delicate tissue between the lungs’ tiny air sacs, called alveoli, and the bloodstream. It’s so thin that you can’t see it on a regular X-ray or CT scan. Small blood vessels run from alveoli through the interstitium to larger vessels so that the body can swap carbon dioxide for oxygen. All the many types of interstitial lung disease cause the interstitium to thicken. That makes it more difficult to replenish our bodies with the oxygenated blood that keeps us moving.
There are more than 200 types of interstitial lung disease (ILD). Here, we’re going to categorize them by what causes or triggers the disease.
Exposure- or occupational-related interstitial lung disease
Inhaling pollutants in the course of daily life can cause lung damage and disease. Many of these particles are common in certain industries, like agriculture, manufacturing, construction and mining. Silica dust, asbestos fibers, grain dust and even bird and animal droppings are toxins that require careful handling to avoid life-threatening exposure.
Occupational ILDs include: asbestosis, silicosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), hypersensitivity pneumonia, diffuse interstitial fibrosis and granulomatous diseases, like hard metal disease.
The medical research and pharmacology community have given us so many valuable advances. Unfortunately, there are medications out there that can cure one disease while causing another at the same time. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments are known causes of interstitial lung disease.
Other medications and treatments linked to ILD include: heart medications that treat arrythmia, some antibiotics and some anti-inflammatories.
Autoimmune or connective tissue diseases-related ILD
Autoimmune diseases are chronic illnesses that direct the immune system to attack the body. While many symptoms of these chronic conditions are localized, or specific to certain body parts or systems, they can still affect other areas. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is known to cause interstitial lung disease in addition to debilitating joint damage.
Other autoimmune diseases that can cause ILD include: lupus, scleroderma, dermatomyositis, polymyositis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
While we’re focusing on the lungs in this article, sarcoidosis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the lymph nodes and other bodily organs as well as the lungs. Sarcoidosis creates granulomas, which are lumps that can potentially impair an organ’s ability to function properly. Research indicates that sarcoidosis may be an autoimmune disease, but scientists aren’t sure exactly what triggers it.
Other body parts and organs sarcoidosis can affect include: eyes, joints, bones, kidneys, nervous system and the heart.
“Idiopathic” means that the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, this is the most common type of interstitial lung disease. This category includes idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which creates irreversible scarring in the interstitial tissue. Like other ILDs, it’s not infectious. However, there isn’t a cure for it, either.
While pharmaceutical companies are pouring money into research for all these types of interstitial lung disease, we’re on a different mission.
Here at Pulmonary Fibrosis NOW, we’re focused on discovering and sharing different types of alternative and natural treatments for interstitial lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis, including systemic enzymes. These enzymes work by reducing the molecules that cause scarring in your body—including the scars caused in lung tissue by this array of diseases.