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Most people are familiar with scars that form on the skin and may be surprised to learn that scars form on lung tissue as well. Lung scarring is a condition in which lung tissue becomes damaged and scar tissue forms. Sometimes lung scars are small and do not represent a serious problem. In fact, a person may have small or isolated lung scars without even knowing it. On the other hand, large scars or scarring that is spread over a large area of lung tissue can cause breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, and coughing, which may make it hard for a person to do physical activity, such as exercise.
There are many conditions that may lead to lung scarring. Among the most common are pneumonia and cystic fibrosis, which is an inherited lung disease. A person may also develop scarring in relation to conditions such as tuberculosis and asbestosis, a disease caused by asbestos inhalation. In some cases, a person may develop lung scars because of damage that develops in relation to chronic asthma or cancer.
While coughing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties are among the most common symptoms of lung scarring, there are other symptoms a person may develop. For example, an individual with lungs scars may develop fever and chills, especially if he has an active infection, or he may have night sweats. Unexplained weight loss and decreased energy can be symptoms of scarring as well, especially when they are accompanied by other symptoms of lung damage.
Lung scarring can be difficult to treat, as scars are usually permanent. When scarring is extensive or progressive, doctors may prescribe medications that help to slow tissue damage, improve lung function, and help the patient to stay comfortable. For example, anti-inflammatory medication may be used to help reduce inflammation, or immune suppressing drugs may be used to slow scarring that is related to immune system function.
In some cases, doctors may recommend therapies, instead of or in addition to medication, that may help to slow the progression of lung scarring or help the patient experience a better quality of life. They may include oxygen therapy, which involves giving the patient oxygen treatment, or pulmonary rehabilitation, which involves the use of breathing exercises, nutritional counseling, physical conditioning, and sometimes even stress management techniques. Sometimes lifestyle changes help as well, such as quitting smoking, getting enough sleep, and exercising moderately. In very severe cases, however, medication and therapies may not work, and a patient may need a lung transplant.