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HealthInfo Canterbury

Lung fibrosis (pulmonary fibrosis)

Lung fibrosisLung fibrosis, also called pulmonary fibrosis, is a condition in which hard scar tissue forms in your lungs, making it hard to breathe. The scar tissue forms around the air sacs, or alveoli, in your lungs making your lungs stiff. People with lung fibrosis often have a dry cough.

It may be caused by breathing in substances such as grain dust, mined silica (sand is not harmful), asbestos, or bird droppings. Other causes include radiation treatment, certain medicines (such as nitrofurantoin and amiodarone) or other conditions such as sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Often there is no obvious cause (this is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis).

People who have worked in farming, mining or construction are particularly at risk, as are smokers.

How is lung fibrosis diagnosed?

If you are worried that you might have lung fibrosis, speak to your doctor. They will examine you, and may order tests such as a chest X-ray, spirometry (which tests how well your lungs are working), or blood tests. You may need to see a specialist at the hospital who may arrange for you to have a CT scan or bronchoscopy.

How is lung fibrosis treated?

Your treatments and what will happen to you depends on what has caused your lung fibrosis. If it has been caused by something you have breathed in, such as bird droppings, it is important to stop this happening any more. If the cause is related to your workplace, your doctor may need to involve ACC and WorkSafe New Zealand.

Talk to your doctor about what they expect to happen to you. In some cases, there are treatments that may slow down its progress or ease your symptoms. These include oral steroids and medicines that suppress your immune system (also called immunosuppressants). Unfortunately, for many people the condition gets worse and can't be reversed.

If you have been diagnosed with lung fibrosis it is important not to smoke, to eat well, and to get a flu vaccine every year. If you are breathless, ask your doctor to refer you to the Canterbury Better Breathing Programme.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by community respiratory physician, Canterbury DHB. May 2017.

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