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Pulmonary eosinophilia is a medical condition in which the patient experiences lung inflammation, often due to an increased amount of a specific kind of white blood cell called eosinophils. It can be described as either extrinsic or intrinsic, depending on the cause of the increased eosinophil count. Sometimes, a case of simple pulmonary eosinophilia does not exhibit serious symptoms and may even subside on its own without treatment or medications.
The increased levels of eosinophils often indicate that the body is fighting off a foreign substance that has produced an adverse reaction, such as in allergies. The eosinophils will then travel directly to the site of infection and get rid of the foreign substances by producing toxins. In pulmonary eosinophilia, however, the amount of eosinophils and, consequently, their toxins, is so much that it does more harm than good to the lungs, which become inflamed. Eosinophilia is often associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis.
An extrinsic pulmonary eosinophilia is caused by external factors, one of which is medication that the patient is unknowingly allergic to, such as antibiotics or painkillers. Airborne fungus and parasites, such as roundworms or hookworms, are also common causes. In cases of intrinsic pulmonary eosinophilia, the primary cause is often unknown, but the condition usually occurs with or as a result of other illnesses or disorders, such as in breast cancer, lymphoma, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Some common symptoms of pulmonary eosinophilia are wheezing or shortness of breath, dry cough, and chest pains, largely due to the inflamed lungs constricting the airway and making it hard for the person to breathe. Increased breathing rate and fatigue may also occur. If the condition is specifically triggered by an allergic reaction to a medication, skin rashes can appear. In advanced cases, the condition may also cause heart failure, the inability of the heart to pump and supply enough blood because the organ is constricted.
There are many symptoms of pulmonary eosinophilia that are similar in numerous respiratory and lung conditions, so the physician might require several exams and laboratory tests to accurately diagnose the condition. One indication that the patient indeed has eosinophilia is the presence of a crackling sound called “rales” when the doctor listens to the chest through a stethoscope. A complete blood count will also reveal if there is an increase of eosinophils, and an x-ray will show if the lungs are inflamed.
Between the two types, the extrinsic type is usually easier to treat since the cause is more likely to be detected properly and treatment such as antibiotics and antifungal medication can be administered. In the intrinsic type of eosinophilia, treating the primary illness that caused the lung condition is usually the option. The patient, however, may be given supplemental oxygen to assist breathing.