What is pneumonitis?
Pneumonitis, also called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is a type of allergic reaction. It happens when a substance like mold or bacteria irritates the air sacs in your lungs. People who are especially sensitive to these substances will have a reaction.
Pneumonitis is treatable. However, it can cause permanent scarring and lung damage if you don’t catch it early enough.
How common is pneumonitis?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of pneumonitis?
Acute pneumonitis usually appears within four to six hours after you breathe in the irritating substance. You might feel like you have the flu or another respiratory illness, with symptoms like:
- Muscle or joint pain
If you’re not exposed to the substance again, your symptoms should go away within a few days. If you continue to be exposed, you can develop chronic pneumonitis, which is a more long-term condition. About 5 percent of people with pneumonitis will develop the chronic form.
Symptoms of chronic pneumonitis include:
- Dry cough
- Tightness in your chest
- Appetite loss
- Unintentional weight loss
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes pneumonitis?
You can get pneumonitis when substances you breathe in irritate the small air sacs, called alveoli, in your lungs. When you’re exposed to one of these substances, your immune system reacts by producing inflammation. Your air sacs fill with white blood cells and sometimes fluid. The inflammation makes it harder for oxygen to pass through the alveoli into your bloodstream.
Substances that can trigger pneumonitis include:
You’ll find these substances in:
- Animal fur
- Bird feathers or droppings
- Contaminated cheese, grapes, barley, and other foods
- Wood dust
- Hot tubs
Other causes of pneumonitis include:
- Certain medicines, including some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and heart rhythm medicines
- Radiation treatment to the chest
What increases my risk for pneumonitis?
You’re at higher risk for pneumonitis if you work in an industry where you’re exposed to dust that contains irritating substances. For example, farmers are often exposed to grain, straw, and hay that contains mold. When pneumonitis affects farmers, it’s sometimes called farmer’s lung.
Another risk is exposure to mold that can grow in hot tubs, humidifiers, air conditioners, and heating systems. This is called hot tub lung or humidifier lung.
People in the following professions are also at risk for pneumonitis:
- Bird and poultry handlers
- Veterinary workers
- Animal breeders
- Grain and flour processors
- Lumber millers
- Wine makers
- Plastic manufacturers
Even if you don’t work in one of these industries, you can be exposed to mold and other triggering substances in your home.
Being exposed to one of these substances doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get pneumonitis. Most people who are exposed never get this condition.
Your genes play an important role in triggering your reaction. People with a family history of pneumonitis are more likely to develop the condition.
You can get pneumonitis at any age, including childhood. However, it’s most often diagnosed in people ages 50 to 55.
Cancer treatments can also increase your chance of getting pneumonitis. People who take certain chemotherapy drugs or who get radiation to the chest are at greater risk.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is pneumonitis diagnosed?
To see if you have pneumonitis, visit your primary care doctor or a pulmonologist. A pulmonologist is a specialist who treats lung diseases. Your doctor will ask what substances you might have been exposed to at work or home. They’ll then do an exam.
During the exam, your doctor listens to your lungs with a stethoscope. They might hear a crackling or other abnormal sounds in your lungs.
You may have one or more of these tests to find out if you have pneumonitis:
- Oximetry uses a device placed on your finger to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood.
- Blood tests can identify antibodies in your blood against dust, mold, or other substances. They can also show if you’re having an immune system reaction.
- A chest X-ray creates pictures of your lungs to help your doctor find scarring and damage.
- A CT scan takes pictures of your lungs from many different angles. It can show damage to your lungs in more detail than an X-ray.
- Spirometry measures the force of your airflow as you breathe in and out.
- Bronchoscopy places a thin, flexible tube with a camera on one end into your lungs to remove cells for testing. Your doctor might also use water to flush cells out of your lungs. This is called lavage.
- Lung biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from your lung. It’s done while you’re asleep under general anesthesia. The tissue sample is tested for signs of scarring and inflammation.
How is pneumonitis treated?
The best way to relieve your symptoms is to avoid the substance that triggered them. If you work around mold or bird feathers, you may need to change jobs or wear a mask.
The following treatments can relieve pneumonitis symptoms, but they won’t cure the disease:
- Corticosteroids: Prednisone (Rayos) and other steroid drugs bring down inflammation in your lungs. Sidea effects include weight gain and an increased risk for infections, cataracts, and weakened bones (osteoporosis).
- Oxygen therapy: If you’re very short of breath, you can breathe in oxygen through a mask or prongs in your nose.
- Bronchodilators: These medicines relax the airways to help you breathe easier.
If your lung is so severely damaged that you can’t breathe well even with treatment, you may be a candidate for a lung transplant. You’ll have to wait on an organ transplant list for a matched donor.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pneumonitis?
A diagnosis of pneumonitis may mean that you’ll have to make changes to your lifestyle to protect your health. You’ll need to avoid known triggers as much as possible.
For example, if your job duties expose you to substances that irritate your lungs, talk to your doctor and supervisor at work about ways to protect yourself, such as wearing a pollen mask or personal dust respirator. If a hobby is causing the problem, you may have to find a different hobby.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Pneumonitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352628. Accessed October 19, 2017
Pneumonitis. https://www.healthline.com/health/pneumonitis#outlook9. Accessed October 19, 2017
Review Date: October 19, 2017 | Last Modified: October 24, 2017