Interstitial Lung Diseases
Interstitial Lung Diseases

Interstitial Lung Diseases Causes and Risk Factors

ILDs are caused by damage to your lungs from things in your environment, your lifestyle habits, or another health condition.

What causes ILDs?

When you breathe in, air enters your airways and travels down into your air sacs, or alveoli, in your lungs. Normally, your air sacs are elastic, meaning that their size and shape can change easily. Air sacs can expand when air gets into your lungs and contract to help get air out of your lungs.

When you injure your lungs, your body will normally repair the damage and heal your lungs. If the injury leads to an ILD, the healing process stops working correctly over time. Your body may repair your damaged lungs with scar tissue. Scar tissue can make your air sacs thick and stiff, and your air sacs may not be able to expand and contract properly. This makes it harder for oxygen to move from your lungs into your bloodstream. The scarring also makes it harder for carbon dioxide to move out of your bloodstream and into your lungs to be breathed out. For some ILDs, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of this scarring is unknown.

What raises the risk of ILDs?

Many things can damage your lungs and raise your risk of an ILD.

  • Family history: You have a higher risk of ILDs if a close relative has an ILD. Mutations, or changes in your genes, can make you more likely to develop scar tissue in your lungs.
  • Environment and occupation: Exposure to mold, chemicals, or bacteria at work or in your environment can damage your lungs. Breathing in dust from mining and construction work over a long time can raise your risk of asbestos-related lung disease, which is a type of ILD.

Tell your doctor if you think you may have been exposed to asbestos. Your doctor can watch for symptoms or complications and start treatment early, depending on the type of asbestos-related lung disease you have.

  • Lifestyle habits: Smoking can damage your lungs or make lung damage worse.
  • Medicines: While rare, some antibiotics, heart medicines, and chemotherapy drugs can raise your risk.
  • Other health conditions: Conditions such as sarcoidosis, autoimmune diseases, connective tissue disorders, and viral infections such as COVID-19 can damage your lungs. Watch our video on how SARS-CoV-2 affects the lungs to learn more. Additionally, we offer information and resources on how we are working hard to support necessary COVID-19 research.
  • Sex: Some ILDs are more common in men or in women. IPF is more common, and causes more serious symptoms, in men. LAM is more common in women. Also, some autoimmune diseases and connective tissue disorders that cause ILDs are more common in women.

Research for your health

The research we support on interstitial lung diseases has led to more and better treatment options to improve the health of people who have lung damage. Through our current research, we hope to better understand how our genes and our immune system affect our risk of developing ILDs.

Can you prevent ILDs?

There is no way to prevent ILDs that are caused by your genes.

You can prevent some ILDs by quitting smoking and avoiding substances in your environment or at work that can damage your lungs.

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