In ILDs, scarring damages tissues in or around the lungs’ air sacs and airways. The lung interstitium is the space where the air sacs, called alveoli, come in contact with connective tissue and blood vessels to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. If you have an ILD, the interstitial tissue becomes thick and stiff, making it harder for oxygen to move out of the lungs and into the bloodstream and for carbon dioxide to move out of the bloodstream and into the lungs. Visit our How the Lungs Work Health Topic to learn more about what happens to the blood in the lungs.
ILDs may be caused by your genes, medicines, or other medical conditions such as sarcoidosis and certain autoimmune disorders. Exposures to substances in the environment can also lead to some types of ILDs, including asbestos-related lung diseases and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. For some ILDs, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of the scarring is unknown. Childhood ILDs can have the same or different causes as ILDs in adults.
Signs and symptoms may include dry cough, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, and fatigue. Pulmonologists and other doctors and nurses who specialize in lung disease may diagnose an ILD based on your medical and family histories and results from diagnostic tests and imaging procedures, including pulmonary function tests and a chest CT (computed tomography) scan.
ILDs can be mild or severe, and the amount of scarring can get worse over time. Depending on which ILD you have and how severe it is, your doctor may recommend avoiding environmental exposures if they trigger your condition. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend treating your condition and symptoms with medicines, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, or a lung transplant. Untreated ILDs can lead to complications such as growth problems in children, venous thromboembolism, lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, and respiratory failure.
Scarring in the lungs is often permanent, but early diagnosis and treatment can help slow or stop the scarring. Your medical team can help you learn how to manage your condition to improve your quality of life.
Visit Interstitial Lung Diseases for more information about this topic.
Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people who have an interstitial lung disease. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing scientific discovery on lung diseases.
Learn about some of the pioneering research contributions we have made over the years that have improved clinical care.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing interstitial lung disease research in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about interstitial lung diseases.
We lead or sponsor many studies on interstitial lung diseases (ILDs). See whether you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Interstitial Lung Diseases Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found at the following resources.