Lungs are vital respiratory organ in many air breathing animals including human beings. There are two lungs in humans, each located in the rib cage on either side of heart. Main function of lungs is to transport oxygen from the atmosphere to each and every cell and release carbon dioxide as a waste product from the body.
Lung is made up of several different parts. There are millions of tiny air spaces in the lungs meant for exchange of gases. They are elastic in nature. During the exchange, inhaled oxygen enters into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide passes when a person breathes out.Lungs are spongy structures. The tiny alveoli (air space) inflate and deflate while breathing in and out.
However, certain diseases can damage the lung tissue and affects its elasticity. As a result person experiences difficulty in breathing. These diseases and conditions are collectively labeled as interstitial lung disease due to diffuse involvement of lung and common clinical manifestation.
What Causes Hardening Of The Lungs?
Lungs can lose their elasticity and become harder in several diseases and conditions. Often hardening is permanent which ultimately affects breathing in a person. Here are some common causes:
- Infections such as tuberculosis, bacterial infection, viral and fungal infections can damage the lung tissue leading to scarring and hardening.
- Radiation administered for malignancies of lungs can destroy the lung tissue, especially when it is used in high doses.
- Inhalation of toxic gases and fumes can cause interstitial lung disease. Occupational exposure to different material such as metal dusts is another important cause. Silica and asbestos dust can cause progressive damage to the lung parenchyma.
- Use of certain drugs used for arrhythmia of heart for a long time is known to affect lung elasticity. If taken for a long duration, it can cause hardening of lung.
The most important association of interstitial disease of lung is seen with different connective tissue disorders. Systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis although affect joints, they also damage lungs in many cases.
Symptoms Of Hardening Of The Lungs
Lung hardening or interstitial lung disease usually involves adults of both sexes. The onset of symptoms is generally slow and progressive; sometime it can also be acute form. 90 percent of patients suffer from progressive breathlessness.
- Some patients complain of dry cough which may be accompanied with scanty mucus secretion. Cough aggravates even with moderate exercise.
- Systemic symptoms such as malaise, weakness, fatigue, body ache, fever, weight loss, low appetite, are frequently present.
- The ends of fingers become wide and thick. The nails and tongue become blue even after mild exercise.
- There is reduced chest expansion with shallow respiration.
Treatment For Hardening Of The Lungs
The treatment of lung hardening is not satisfactory and in majority of cases the main aim of treatment is to slow down its progression and alleviate the symptoms. The mainstay of treatment is anti inflammatory medicines largely with corticosteroids.
Most patients with interstitial lung disease have low oxygen saturation in blood during exercise or even while resting. Supportive oxygen therapy is therefore vital in this disorder. Sometimes it may be given for long term even after the patient is discharged from the hospital.
Presence of fever with mucopurulent expectoration can be an indication of infection. It may require antibiotics to heal the infection.
The course of hardening of lung is progressive and the outcome of treatment is not promising. The median survival rate is 4 years. In some cases, lung transplantation is found effective.