Long term impact of interstitial lung disease

MIAMI – Global data indicates there has been a worldwide increase in the incidence of interstitial lung disease, an umbrella term used for a large group of conditions that lead to scarring of the lungs.

For most of his life Gilbert Machado enjoyed good health, until about three years ago when he started to cough.

“And the cough would then turn into coughing fits. It got to the point where I was drinking Robitussin like it was water. I would say it was about two bottles a week. It was that bad, I was coughing night and day,” Machado said.

He was ultimately diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, or I.L.D.

“Interstitial lung disease is a combination of diseases that the end result is going to be the same which is progressively destroying the lungs, said Dr. Andres Pelaez, Co-Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Miami Transplant Institute.

The most common symptom is shortness of breath, which is often accompanied by a dry cough, chest discomfort, fatigue and occasionally weight loss but by the time symptoms appear the damage has been done.

“Even though we have medications that might slow down the progression we really don’t have medications out there than can really change the natural history of the disease,” said Pelaez.

The doctor said once the damage has been done the only treatment for I.L.D. is a double lung transplant, but not everyone will qualify for the procedure.

“That’s why it’s very important to have an early referral to a transplant program because while the natural history might take several years, once it takes place, once the person is on oxygen, there is not much time left for that person to really be considered for transplant,” Pelaez said.

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Machado underwent the operation in the fall of 2022 and is making his way back to the life he loves.

“I’m not as physical as I used to be, but I will be, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.

Anyone, including children, can get I.L.D.

Many things increase the risk including genetics, certain medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, exposure to hazardous materials, autoimmune diseases and smoking.