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What is Fibrosing Alveolitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Fibrosing alveolitis, also known as pulmonary fibrosis, is a chronic lung disease which falls into a larger family of diseases known as interstitial lung conditions, referring to the fact that they involve the interstitial space of the lungs. This condition can be very dangerous for a patient, and it requires monitoring and appropriate treatment. In some cases, the condition may progress to the point where a lung transplant is required.

This condition occurs when the lungs are repeatedly inflamed and irritated, triggering the formation of fibrous scar tissue in between the alveoli in the lungs. As the scarring progresses, the patient usually experiences difficulty breathing, including shortness of breath even when no strenuous activity is occurring. Many patients also develop a dry, unproductive cough.

The causes for fibrosing alveolitis are quite varied. The condition has been linked with some autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, along with infections in the lungs, certain heart conditions, and occupational exposure to substances like coal dust and asbestos which can inflame the lungs. Fibrosing alveolitis can occur years after occupational exposure, which is something to be aware of, as a patient may develop the condition long after retirement.

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Treatments for fibrosing alveolitis are focused on determining the cause and addressing it, if necessary, along with managing the patient's lungs. Drugs can be used to ease the inflammation, and supportive therapy such as supplemental oxygen may help the patient breathe more comfortably. It is also important to be alert to early signs of problems such as lung infections which could be dangerous for the patient. If the fibrosing alveolitis does not respond to treatment or gets worse, it may be time to think about a lung transplant.

People can reduce their chances of developing fibrosing alveolitis by wearing appropriate protection if they work in industries which generate dangerous occupational exposures, such as construction. Generally caring for the lungs by being alert to infections and inflammations is also advisable, as is manging chronic autoimmune conditions to reduce the amount of damage these conditions cause. People who are at risk of pulmonary fibrosis may be given additional advice about medical care which they should follow to reduce their risks.

When people go to the doctor because they are experiencing shortness of breath, they should make sure that the doctor is familiar with their complete medical and personal history, as information in a patient's history may be relevant to a newly emerging medical problem. Especially in the case of something like fibrosing alveolitis, which can occur so long after the causal exposure or event, a review of patient history may reveal important information about the past.

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