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Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Secondary to Environmental Exposures

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Secondary to Environmental Exposures Overview

Environmental lung diseases, often associated with the work place, encompass a wide range of disorders that involve the airway, air sacs of the lung (alveoli), arteries, and veins.

Common environmental lung diseases include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Pneumoconiosis ("black lung")
  • Silicosis

Symptoms of environmental interstitial lung diseases

These diseases have symptoms that range from subtle to inflammatory.

Subtle symptoms:

  • Chronic cough
  • Nasal irritation

Inflammatory symptoms:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Other symptoms and conditions that may occur include:
  • Scarring of the lungs — such as asbestosis, silicosis, and beryllium-induced lung disease
  • Malignant disorders — such as lung cancer and mesothelioma

The University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC, created in 2001 because of a generous gift from the Simmons family, is dedicated to providing the highest quality of health care, education, and support for people with interstitial lung diseases and their caregivers and loved ones.

Diagnosing Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)

To determine the best route for treatment, specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC will:

  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Evaluate your medical history
  • Perform a physical exam

Testing for interstitial lung disease

Tests used to confirm a diagnosis of ILD include:

  • A high resolution CT scan of the chest
  • Pulmonary function studies, or breathing tests
  • General laboratory tests
  • An echocardiogram

In selected patients, lung biopsy using video-assisted thoracic surgery must be done to provide a histological, or tissue, diagnosis of occupational lung disease. This also helps to rule out the possibility of associated diseases or cancer.

Our pathologists, highly experienced in the field of lung diseases, evaluate the tissue as part of the histological diagnosis of occupational lung diseases.

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Treatments

The University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC specializes in managing environmental and other lung diseases. We offer the multidisciplinary approach needed to treat patients and prevent progression of lung disease, when possible.

The treatment team

Patients are evaluated by the Simmons Center team, that includes:

  • Pulmonary physicians — who have expertise in the field of environmental and occupational health
  • Industrial hygienists — who assess the work place, and outdoor and indoor environments (these services are usually not covered by insurance companies)
  • Cardiologists — who evaluate the involvement of the heart and pulmonary vessels
  • Rheumatologists — who assess the immune system
  • Pathologists — who evaluate the biopsies
  • Chest radiology experts — who evaluate imaging results
  • Rehabilitation and quality-of-life experts — who optimize supportive therapy and assess the psychological impact of ILD
  • UPMC lung transplant surgeons — for cases when medical treatment is not effective and the disease is expected to progress
  • Leaders in clinical research — who provide access to novel ILD therapies

Treatment options for interstitial lung disease

Our team will periodically re-evaluate patient progress and assess the treatment options once the diagnosis of occupational- or environmental-induced lung disease is confirmed.

There are no approved drug therapies for many people with these diseases, but most patients benefit from:

UPMC is a world leader in lung transplantation and experts at the Lung Transplantation Program evaluate patients rigorously to determine their eligibility for this procedure.

Doctors at the Simmons Center work closely with members of the Lung Transplant Program to refer patients for evaluation, when the time is right.

Clinical trials

Participation in clinical research is one of the major benefits of referral to large specialized centers in occupational lung diseases such as UPMC.

While there are currently no proven effective medications for most occupational lung diseases, novel drugs are being tested continuously.

Participating in research studies directly contributes to finding a cure for these preventable, but devastating, illnesses.