Breathe Easy: Providing Hope Through Specialized Care
Research and Innovations Recent medical advances and specialized avenues of treatment have the potential to create a positive impact in the lives of Canadians suffering from interstitial lung diseases.
Question: What solutions are available for patients coping with lung disease?
Answer: Specialized care in the field of rare lung disease is changing patients’ lives by providing an “element of hope,” says Dr. Charlie Chan, Professor and Vice-Chair of Medicine at the University of Toronto and University Health Network lung specialist.
Every year, several thousand Canadians are diagnosed with interstitial lung diseases — rare lung diseases in which tissue surrounding the alveoli (tiny air sacs that make oxygen available to the rest of the body) becomes scarred over time.
"Every year, several thousand Canadians are diagnosed with interstitial lung diseases — rare lung diseases in which tissue surrounding the alveoli becomes scarred over time."
The thickening and stiffening of lung tissue that occurs in these conditions is irreversible, leaving patients with serious breathing difficulties; as a result, this impedes on the ability to perform everyday tasks. Left undiagnosed, these conditions can be fatal within two to three years. The exact cause of interstitial lung diseases remains largely unknown, further complicating diagnosis and treatment of conditions that radically diminish a patient’s quality of life.
The earlier the better
Early detection, followed by prompt care from a lung specialist, is crucial for success with treating these diseases. Early diagnoses of interstitial lung diseases are now a viable possibility thanks to high-resolution comuted tomography (CT) scans.
Early diagnosis helps to create greater awareness of the condition — this makes it possible for patients to access different treatment options, and it can also shift the treatment focus from a strategy of ‘damage control’ to a strategy of prevention.
"Early diagnoses of interstitial lung diseases are now a viable possibility thanks to high-resolution comuted tomography (CT) scans."
On the edge of breakthroughs
One of the most vital and exciting options for treatment for these rare lung diseases came only a year ago: one drug was finally approved in Canada that can help to slow down or stabilize the scarring of lung tissue. This can have a big impact in improving a patient’s quality of life.
A second drug is expected to be approved for clinical use in the spring. Dr. Chan predicts that in the next five to ten years even more drug treatment options will become available and accessible to patients.
Breath of fresh air
While it is not yet possible to reverse lung scarring, participation in clinical drug trials or pulmonary rehabilitation programs can improve patients’ lives by helping them regain some degree of lung function.
"From detection and diagnosis, to treatment and education, specialized action plans are helping patients realize their full life potential and are aiding to address the unique demands of their illness."
Holistic approaches work to reduce the environmental and lifestyle elements that can worsen lung injury (examples include smoking, diet, or occupational exposure to aggravating materials such as asbestos or silica.) This holistic approach, combined with a pulmonary rehabilitation program that teaches patients how to ‘stretch’ the scar-stiffened tissue in their lungs through light exercise, can also limit scarring and help patients push to their full rehabilitative potential.
A brighter future
Unlike ten years ago, interstitial lung diseases are no longer a hopeless diagnosis, notes Chan. From detection and diagnosis, to treatment and education, specialized action plans are helping patients realize their full life potential and are aiding to address the unique demands of their illness.
Chan recalls the past frustrations regarding the limited treatment options available. Thanks to modern methods of specialized care and treatment, Chan asserts that for patients today, “the future looks a lot brighter.”