Understanding the Relationship Between Asthma and Pulmonary Fibrosis
According to the Canadian Lung Association, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic other common respiratory conditions. I have spoken with many IPF patients who can attest to this. They describe their diagnostic journey as long, complicated, and frustrating.
The process of being diagnosed with IPF includes eliminating many other common respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma. For months before my diagnosis, I was told I had adult-onset asthma, and because I knew nothing about interstitial lung diseases (ILDs), I never questioned the doctors.
Since my diagnosis of IPF in 2016, I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about ILDs, but they’re complicated. The causes of pulmonary fibrosis can vary widely, as can the disease’s progression. Before my lungs worsened, at times I actually would forget that I had IPF. When that happened, I wasn’t short of breath, I wasn’t coughing frequently, and I was able to manage the fatigue. But that has changed in the past few years.
Last week, I wrote about being prescribed new medications after my IPF symptoms worsened. I wondered about what to do when the new inhalers proved less than effective in managing my symptoms. I believed that the newly prescribed inhaled steroids were making my lungs worse. So, I spent much of last week documenting when I took the medications and how I felt both before and after, to discuss the results later with my doctor.
My doctor isn’t convinced the new therapies are causing more damage, but he did agree to keep trying to better manage my symptoms. After listening to my lungs and manually evaluating my breathing, rather than using pulmonary function tests, he added Ventolin (albuterol) back into my medication regimen.
I have used Ventolin before, and picking up that light blue inhaler brought me back to the days of being wrongfully diagnosed with asthma. When I asked my doctor about the inhaler’s use for asthmatics, he said it also can be used to open up airways for anyone struggling with breathlessness.
What he told me next shocked me: He believes I have asthma in addition to IPF.
Perplexed, I asked how that is possible, and he noted that many of his patients with ILDs have been struggling this year with asthmatic symptoms due to the environmental triggers of pollen. He also said that many of his patients with IPF are being diagnosed with asthma, and while inhalers aren’t typically used to treat IPF, they can be effective in managing symptoms for anyone with a lung disease.
I am now on a quest to better understand the relationship between asthma and IPF. Both conditions lead to damage in the lungs, although according to the nonprofit group Pulmonary Fibrosis Now, there is no direct link between the two. I am desperate to ensure my lungs aren’t further damaged, so I’m curious to hear from other patients with IPF who have also been diagnosed with asthma.
I’m interested in hearing about other experiences with Ventolin, particularly if it has helped to manage breathlessness, cough, and wheezing. There is nothing worse than being unable to catch your breath!
If you’d like to contribute to the discussion, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.