Persistent dry cough. Fatigue. Shortness of breath. These symptoms are sometimes associated with a passing virus, especially during the peak of cold and flu season. Coughs can last an average of 18 days; however, if your dry cough is still lingering after two months, another condition, such as pulmonary fibrosis, might be the cause.
“There are more than 50,000 new cases of pulmonary fibrosis diagnosed every year, yet many patients have never heard of it prior to their diagnosis,” said William T. Schmidt, president and CEO of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF). “Some individuals with the disease may be first misdiagnosed with pneumonia, bronchitis or asthma, which is why it is imperative we continue to raise awareness about the disease, common symptoms and risk factors.”
What is pulmonary fibrosis?
While the condition is largely unknown, more than 200,000 Americans are living with pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive, debilitating lung disease. In simple terms, pulmonary fibrosis is scarring in the lungs that, over time, can destroy the normal lung and make it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Currently, there is no cure once scarring has begun, but the PFF is mobilizing people and resources to provide access to high-quality care, as well as leading research for a cure so individuals with pulmonary fibrosis will live longer, healthier lives.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis?
There are three main symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis — shortness of breath, a dry, hacking cough and fatigue. If you have two or more of these lingering symptoms, they should be taken seriously and you should speak with your physician.
“I started off with a slight, dry cough. I didn’t know what it was,” said Dot Delarosa, a pulmonary fibrosis patient who received a life-saving lung transplant in 2010. “I would talk and I would cough, talk and cough. To me, this was my normal.”
While anyone can develop pulmonary fibrosis, it is more likely to occur in those 60 years and older with a history of smoking, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk for the disease. Other risk factors include: a family history of pulmonary fibrosis; prior or current use of certain medications such as chemotherapy and amiodarone; a history of radiation treatment to the chest; environmental and occupational exposures including indoor mold, birds or asbestos; and a previous diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disease.
How do I find out if I have pulmonary fibrosis?
Although many of these symptoms are seen with more common diseases such as COPD, asthma and heart disease, it is important to consider pulmonary fibrosis. If you have symptoms or risk factors, the first step is to speak with your healthcare provider. Early diagnosis is key to maximizing treatment options. With a lesser known disease like pulmonary fibrosis, advocating for your health is crucial. To help you start that conversation with your doctor, a downloadable Pulmonary Fibrosis Risk List is available at AboutPF.org.
To be diagnosed, you may need further testing after a thorough physical exam with your physician. Testing to help facilitate a clear diagnosis may include pulmonary function testing and/or high-resolution computed tomography.
If further action needs to be taken, you can find a local pulmonologist through the PFF Care Center Network, which includes centers with experience in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary fibrosis.
For more information or to find a pulmonologist near you, visit AboutPF.org.