As we get older, it can be hard to breathe sometimes, for many different reasons – one of them is due to pulmonary fibrosis. What is pulmonary fibrosis? The NHS says that idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a condition where the lungs get scarred gradually and so breathing becomes increasingly more difficult.
The exact cause is still unclear. The word ‘idiopathic’ means that the cause is unknown. It is a condition affecting people who are usually around 70-75 years old and so rarely diagnosed in people under the age of 50 years old.
Many pulmonary fibrosis treatments are available to help reduce the rate at which IPF worsens but know that there is currently no treatment to stop or reverse the lung scarring which occurs as a result of developing this condition.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis symptoms develop little by little and worsen slowly over time. Signs of pulmonary fibrosis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent, dry cough
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Rounded and swollen fingers (known as clubbed fingers)
There are distinct pulmonary fibrosis stages to the condition. Please note that experiencing shortness of breath can happen over time, even when you are simply getting dressed in the morning (with minimal effort).
What causes Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis causes are still undetermined. What we do know is that the tiny air sacs in the lungs (the alveoli) get damaged and scarred over time. This deterioration means that the lungs themselves can become stiff so it’s hard for oxygen to get into the blood so breathing just gets more difficult for many people.
Risk factors linked to developing pulmonary fibrosis include:
- Exposure to certain dusts like metal or wood dust.
- Viral infection
- Family history of this disease. About 1 in 20 people with IPF have another family member with IPF, too.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
Treatments for Pulmonary Fibrosis
There is currently no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, so the focus is on providing treatments to relieve symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition. Regular monitoring, once diagnosis has been determined, is key to helping you manage pulmonary fibrosis.
Self-care tips could include stopping smoking (if you are a smoker), eating a healthy diet and regular exercise. You may be prescribed medicines to reduce the rate the scarring on the lungs gets worse and you may start to breathe oxygen through a mask – at home or even whilst out, using a portable device. You could be offered pulmonary rehabilitation which is exercises and advice to help you breathe more easily.
If pulmonary fibrosis concerns you; book an appointment with us. At Pall Mall, we offer a suite of tests, scans and diagnostics for lung function assessing the current condition of your lungs.
By knowing just why it may be harder to breathe lately; you can become equipped with all the knowledge you need about what you can do to make it easier for yourself to do so, now and into the future.