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Pneumonitis, not to be confused with pneumonia, is a general term that refers to inflammation of lung tissue that is not infectious. Difficulty breathing and persistent coughing are the most common symptoms of pneumonitis. Additional symptoms may include fever, malaise and fatigue. It should be noted that these symptoms are not a certain indication of pneumonitis. Tests must be performed by a doctor to confirm a diagnosis.

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Causes of Pneumonitis Include:

  • Exposure to certain airborne particles or chemicals such as asbestos
  • Exposure to some kinds of fowl such as pet birds, pigeons or poultry
  • Chest radiation therapy
  • Allergies
  • Reactions from certain types of medication
  • Significant exposure to mold
  • Breathing in animal dander
  • Receiving radiation therapy to the chest
  • Inhaling small food particles down the wrong pipe
  • Overexposure to Chlorine
  • Mercury exposure
  • Smoking

If left untreated, pneumonitis can lead to lung damage that cannot be reversed with medical intervention. Normally, air sacs expand and relax each time we breathe. Scars left from regular recurrences of pneumonitis can leave scars on the lining of these sacs. These scars harden the tissue and make the sacs less flexible. This is referred to as pulmonary fibrosis. Severe cases can lead to respiratory failure, heart failure or death.

Pneumonitis falls into five basic classes:

  1. Acute interstitial pneumonitis
  2. Blood pneumonitis
  3. Lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis
  4. Radiation pneumonitis
  5. Uremic pneumonitis

Pneumonitis is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia or similar conditions. A proper diagnosis for pneumonitis includes tests to eliminate other common lung disorders as a possible cause. Common tests include a CT scan and a chest x-ray. As with the diagnosis of most medical conditions, blood tests are taken to determine a patient’s overall health and detect any other possible condition that may be contributing to the pneumonitis. Pulmonary function tests such as the spirometry test to measure the amount of air a patient is able to inhale and exhale are usually given to further determine the extent of the condition. Additional tests may include:

  • The oximeter test – This test uses a device that is clamped to the patient’s finger. The purpose is to measure oxygen saturation in the patient’s blood.
  • Bronchoscopy – During this procedure, a tube is inserted down the patient’s throat. The purpose is to allow doctor’s to view airway and collect samples from the lungs.
  • Biopsy – A biopsy of the patient’s lung tissue may be required if a samples cannot be collected during a bronchoscopy.

Treatment for pneumonitis varies by patient. Treatment may be as simple as avoiding certain allergens. In severe cases, a patient may need to take corticosteroids to reduce inflammation along with antibiotics to fight bacterial infections. Oxygen therapy may be required to help a patient breathe while performing everyday activities. Timely diagnosis is important to prevent complications from pneumonitis. If detected early and correctly diagnosed, pneumonitis is treatable.