Do you have a persistent cough?

With around 5,000 new cases being diagnosed in the UK every year – could your persistent cough be a sign of fibrosing alveolitis?

Fibrosing alveolitis is a condition that affects approximately 5 million people worldwide.

While you may not have heard of fibrosing alveolitis you may have come across it by one of its other names: pulmonary fibrosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, cyprogenic fibrosing alveolitis or usual interstitial pneumonitis.

Fibrosing alveolitis is the name of a group of conditions which affect the tissues that support the air sacs within the lungs. It is known as an interstitial lung disease (ILD). The lungs of someone with fibrosing alveolitis will become thickened and scarred and they will struggle to take in as much oxygen and will feel short of breath.

How would I know if I have fibrosing alveolitis?

A dry cough, shortness of breath and chest pain are the most common symptoms.

Unfortunately, people tend to dismiss some of these symptoms, wrongly assuming that it’s just part and parcel of the ageing process or because they are unfit – in particular, the feeling of being short of breath.

If you do experience these symptoms it is very important to make an appointment with your GP and get it checked out – don’t just dismiss them as they can get worse over time.

Although in most cases the cause of fibrosing alveolitis is generally unknown it is thought that genetics and your environment may play a part.

There are rare cases, however, of fibrosing alveolitis developing as a result of certain drug treatments for conditions such as heart disease and cancer and it may also be associated with some autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

How best to diagnose fibrosing alveolitis?

Your GP will need to rule out other lung conditions before making a firm diagnosis.

In the first instance, they should listen to your chest, ask about your medical and work history and arrange for blood tests.

They may then go on to recommend a chest x-ray or CT scan, a bronchoscopy (a small camera passed into your lungs) or undertake some breathing tests.

Are some people more at risk of fibrosing alveolitis than others?

It is believed there are a number of factors which may increase the risk of contracting fibrosing alveolitis:

  • people who smoke
  • long term exposure to dust (if you’ve ever had a job working with wood or metal, or as a miner, then you may be more at risk).

Men are almost twice as likely to contract fibrosing alveolitis as women and also less likely to regularly have their health checked.

If any of these symptoms sound like you or you fall into the increased risk categories then it is vitally important to get yourself an appointment with your GP so you can get your symptoms checked out.

How is the condition treated?

Fibrosing alveolitis can be treated but there is no cure. People living with the condition are able to take medication along with oxygen therapy. Lung rehabilitation may also be offered which will include breathing and physical exercises that may alleviate symptoms.

Give up smoking

It is thought that smoking increases the risk of developing fibrosing alveolitis along with other conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. So if you want to live a healthier lifestyle then perhaps it is time to think about stopping. There are various programmes you can follow and you could start by visiting your GP who will be able to help too.

Visit NHS Smokefree – support to help you quit smoking.

For more on lung conditions, treatment and support British Lung FoundationAction for Pulmonary Fibrosis and Breathing Matters UK can help.

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