Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease is an umbrella term that covers a group of more than 200 chronic lung disorders that inflame and scar the lungs. The affected area is called the interstitium, a support network for the air sacs (alveoli).

While some individuals are more at-risk than others, interstitial lung disease can affect anyone.

Types of Interstital Lung Disease

Once lung tissue is scarred, it cannot be repaired. This results in a disease called pulmonary fibrosis, which makes breathing progressively more difficult.

Some other examples of interstitial lung disease include:

  • Bronchiolitis – inflammation of the small airways (bronchioles)
  • Alveolitis – inflammation of the alveoli
  • Vasculitis – inflammation of the capillaries, or tiny blood vessels that help blood circulate from the heart to the arteries to the veins and back to the heart
  • Interstitial pneumonia – a sudden and severe infection of the alveoli

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of interstitial lung disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

Causes of Interstital Lung Disease

Most causes of interstitial lung disease are unknown, but some common causes include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to pollutants
  • Medications, including anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs
  • Radiation treatment
  • Bacteria
  • Virus
  • Fungi
  • Asbestos
  • Talc
  • Coal or grain dust
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma

Testing and Diagnosis

Our OSF HealthCare pulmonary physicians will administer pulmonary function tests.


If you are diagnosed with an interstitial lung disease, our multidisciplinary team will work with you to tame the inflammation and prevent additional scarring.

The symptoms of some conditions can be managed to a point of allowing you a relatively normal lifestyle. More severe conditions are life-threatening.

Our goal is to help you remain strong and as active as possible, without breathing difficulty.

Depending on the specific type and severity of your disease, treatment options may include:

  • Medications, including antibiotics
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Referral for lung transplant surgery

Lung Transplant

OSF HealthCare does not perform lung transplants, but we work with transplant centers in Chicago and St. Louis.