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What Is Childhood Interstitial Lung Disease?

Childhood interstitial (in-ter-STISH-al) lung disease, or chILD, is a broad term for a group of rare lung diseases that can affect babies, children, and teens. These diseases have some similar symptoms, such as chronic cough, rapid breathing, and shortness of breath.

These diseases also harm the lungs in similar ways. For example, they damage the tissues that surround the lungs' alveoli (al-VEE-uhl-eye; air sacs) and bronchial tubes (airways). Sometimes these diseases directly damage the air sacs and airways.

The various types of chILD can decrease lung function, reduce blood oxygen levels, and disturb the breathing process.


Researchers have only begun to study, define, and understand chILD in the last decade. Currently, they don't know how many children have chILD. They also don't know how many children have each type of chILD.

Diagnosing chILD and its specific diseases is hard because chILD is rare and complex. Also, chILD is a broad term for a group of diseases with similar symptoms—it's not a precise diagnosis.

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) also occurs in adults. However, the cause of ILD in adults may be different than the cause in children. Some types of chILD are similar to the adult forms of the disease. They may even have the same names as the adult forms, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis (noo-mo-NI-tis), immunodeficiency-associated lung disease, and bronchiolitis (brong-ke-o-LI-tis) obliterans.

However, research shows that the course and outcomes of these diseases often are very different for children than for adults.

Some ILDs only occur in children. They include:

  • Lung growth abnormalities
  • Neuroendocrine (noor-o-EN-do-krin) cell hyperplasia (hi-per-PLA-ze-ah) of infancy (NEHI)
  • Pulmonary interstitial glycogenosis (gli-ko-JEN-eh-sis)
  • Developmental disorders, such as alveolar (al-VE-o-lar) capillary dysplasia


Each form of chILD may differ in its severity and how it's treated. Thus, getting a correct diagnosis is vital for understanding and treating your child's illness.

You may want to consult a pediatric pulmonologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating children who have lung diseases and conditions. This doctor's training and experience can help him or her diagnose chILD.

The outlook for children who have chILD also depends on the specific type of disease they have. Some diseases are very severe and lead to early death. Others are chronic (long-term) diseases that parents and the child's medical team must work together to manage.

At this time, chILD has no cure. However, some children who have certain diseases, such as NEHI, may slowly improve over time.

Researchers are now starting to learn more about the causes of chILD. They're also trying to find distinct patterns and traits for the various forms of chILD. This information may help doctors better understand these diseases.

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Last Updated: March 21, 2014