Pneumonitis refers to inflammation of the lungs. It occurs when the delicate tissues of the lungs become inflamed or irritated. Pneumonitis can be caused by a variety of factors including infection, exposure to certain chemicals or medicines, autoimmune diseases, and radiation therapy.
While pneumonitis sounds serious, it is a treatable condition if caught early. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments for pneumonitis, outcomes can be improved.
Understanding Pneumonitis And How Does It Affect Your Respiratory Organ?
Pneumonitis is not a disease itself but rather a condition that can result from other medical problems. Some of the most common causes of pneumonitis include:
👉 Infection – Bacterial, viral, or fungal lung infections can all lead to pneumonitis as the body reacts to the pathogen. COVID-19 is one example of a virus that frequently causes pneumonitis.
👉 Medication reaction – Certain medicines like chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or even aspirin can sometimes irritate the lungs, resulting in drug-induced pneumonitis. This is called hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
👉 Radiation therapy – Radiation treatment for cancers in the chest such as lung cancer, breast cancer, or esophageal cancer can damage healthy lung tissue, leading to radiation pneumonitis.
👉 Autoimmune disorders – Diseases where the immune system attacks the body like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma increase the risk for pneumonitis. The misdirected immune cells damage the lungs.
👉 Inhaled chemicals – Breathing in chemical fumes, gases, dust, asbestos fibers, or other irritants can cause chemical pneumonitis. The inhaled material triggers an inflammatory reaction.
👉 Aspiration – Choking on saliva, vomit, or liquids and having it enter the lungs can cause aspiration pneumonitis. The aspirated material damages the lung structures.
While anyone can develop pneumonitis, certain groups are more at risk including people with weakened immune systems, pre-existing lung disease, smokers, people with autoimmune disorders, and those receiving radiation treatment or chemotherapy.
Symptoms Of Pneumonitis
The symptoms of pneumonitis often come on gradually and may include:
👉 Dry cough that may or may not produce mucus
👉 Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
👉 Wheezing or crackling lung sounds
👉 Fever or chills
👉 Chest tightness or pain with breathing
👉 Feeling tired
👉 Loss of appetite and weight loss
In some cases, pneumonitis symptoms can appear acutely and severely right after exposure to a triggering substance like vomit or chemical fumes.
Symptoms also depend on the underlying cause and may get worse with activity. Since pneumonitis makes it difficult to breathe and get oxygen, it’s crucial to seek prompt medical treatment if any symptoms develop.
Treatments For Pneumonitis
The main goals when treating pneumonitis are to address the underlying cause, relieve symptoms, prevent complications like lung scarring, and allow the lungs to heal. Some of the treatment approaches may include:
👉 Medications – Doctors may prescribe steroids like prednisone to reduce lung inflammation and antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection. Inhalers to open the airways or oxygen therapy may be used.
👉 Removing triggering agent – If a medicine, chemical, or inhaled particle caused pneumonitis, it’s essential to avoid additional exposure. This may mean stopping a medication, avoiding certain environments, or using protective gear when exposure is unavoidable.
👉 Treating complications – If pneumonitis led to pus or abscesses in the lungs, a bacterial infection, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, targeted treatment will be needed.
👉 Rest and avoiding strenuous activity – Allowing the body to heal is important, so exercise and activities will need to be restricted until lung function improves.
👉 Smoking cessation – Since smoking impairs healing, anyone with pneumonitis will need to avoid all tobacco products.
👉 Follow-up care – Even after pneumonitis resolves, follow-up visits are usually recommended to ensure the lungs are healing properly with no persistent inflammation or scarring. Repeat imaging scans may be performed. Ongoing monitoring is especially crucial after radiation pneumonitis.
Pneumonitis, or inflammation of the lung tissue, can result from many causes including infections, inhaled particles or chemicals, medication reactions, radiation therapy, and autoimmune disorders.
Typical symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever. Though pneumonitis sounds serious, outcomes are generally good if it’s diagnosed early and managed properly.
By removing any triggering agent, following the doctor’s treatment plan, and supporting the body’s healing process, most cases of pneumonitis can resolve without any permanent lung damage.
Paying attention to any lingering symptoms and going in for follow-up care is also important.
Q: Is pneumonitis contagious?
A: Pneumonitis itself is not contagious. However, some of the infections that can cause pneumonitis like COVID-19, influenza, or tuberculosis are highly contagious.
Q: How long does pneumonitis last?
A: The course and duration of pneumonitis can vary considerably depending on the cause and treatment. With proper medical care, most cases of pneumonitis improve within a few weeks though sometimes it can take 6 weeks or longer for the lungs to fully heal.
Q: What are the first signs of pneumonitis?
A: Early symptoms of pneumonitis often include a dry cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and a mild fever. Chest discomfort and tightness might also occur. Symptoms may come on gradually or suddenly, depending on the trigger.
Q: Can pneumonitis cause permanent damage?
A: In most cases, pneumonitis resolves fully with treatment without any permanent effects. However, if lung inflammation and scarring become severe before diagnosis, it can cause permanent lung damage and reduced function. That’s why early detection and treatment are key.
Q: What tests diagnose pneumonitis?
A: Doctors use a combination of methods to diagnose pneumonitis. These include listening to the chest with a stethoscope, chest x-ray or CT scan to visualize the lungs, bloodwork, respiratory function tests, and sometimes lung biopsies. The testing also helps determine the underlying cause.