Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size

Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease is a general category that includes many different lung conditions. All interstitial lung diseases affect the interstitium, a part of the lungs' anatomic structure.

The interstitium is a lace-like network of tissue that extends throughout both lungs. The interstitium provides support to the lungs' microscopic air sacs (alveoli). Tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium, allowing gas exchange between blood and the air in the lungs. Normally, the interstitium is so thin it can't be seen on chest X-rays or CT scans.

Recommended Related to Lung Disease/Respiratory Problems

Pleural Effusion

A pleural effusion is an abnormal amount of fluid around the lung. Pleural effusions can result from many medical conditions. Most pleural effusions are not serious by themselves, but some require treatment to avoid problems.

Read the Pleural Effusion article > >

Types of Interstitial Lung Disease

All forms of interstitial lung disease cause thickening of the interstitium. The thickening can be due to inflammation, scarring, or extra fluid (edema). Some forms of interstitial lung disease are short-lived; others are chronic and irreversible.

Some of the types of interstitial lung disease include:

Interstitial pneumonia: Bacteria, viruses, or fungi may infect the interstitium of the lung. A bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumonia is the most common cause.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: A chronic, progressive form of fibrosis (scarring) of the interstitium. Its cause is unknown.

Nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis: Interstitial lung disease that's often present with autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma).

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: Interstitial lung disease caused by ongoing inhalation of dust, mold, or other irritants.

Cryptogenic organizing pneumonia (COP): A pneumonia-like interstitial lung disease but without an infection present. COP is also called bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia (BOOP).

Acute interstitial pneumonitis: A sudden, severe interstitial lung disease, often requiring life support.

Desquamative interstitial pneumonitis: An interstitial lung disease that's partially caused by smoking.

Sarcoidosis: A condition causing interstitial lung disease along with swollen lymph nodes, and sometimes heart, skin, nerve, or eye involvement.

Asbestosis: Interstitial lung disease caused by asbestos exposure.

Causes of Interstitial Lung Disease

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are known to cause interstitial pneumonias. Regular exposures to inhaled irritants at work or during hobbies can also cause some interstitial lung disease. These irritants include:

  • Asbestos
  • Silica dust
  • Talc
  • Coal dust, or various other metal dusts from working in mining
  • Grain dust from farming
  • Bird proteins (such as from exotic birds, chickens, or pigeons)

Drugs such as nitrofurantoin, amiodarone, bleomycin, and many others can rarely cause interstitial lung disease.

All told, these factors cause a small percentage of interstitial lung disease. The cause of most interstitial lung disease is unknown.

Who is at risk from interstitial lung disease? Anyone can develop interstitial lung disease. Men and women of any age can be affected. Interstitial lung disease is more common in people with autoimmune disease, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

Today on WebMD

man coughing
You may not even know you have it.
blood clot
Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
 
man coughing
When a cold becomes bronchitis.
human lungs
Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.
 

Bronchitis Overview
SLIDESHOW
Copd Myth Fact Quiz
QUIZ
 
Living With Copd
VIDEO
Energy Boosting Foods
SLIDESHOW
 

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cigarette butts snuffed out in ashtray
SLIDESHOW
Healthy Home Health Check
TOOL
 
Senior woman stretching
Article
Diagnosing Copd
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections