Pneumonitis: What are the causes?

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Pneumonitis: What are the causes?

Question

What causes pneumonitis?

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Answer

Pneumonitis is a general term for inflammation of lung tissue. Chronic inflammation of lung tissue can lead to irreversible scarring (pulmonary fibrosis). Pneumonitis isn't a specific disease but a sign of an underlying problem. All pneumonias show pneumonitis under the microscope, but not all pneumonitis is pneumonia. Other causes include:

  • Inhalation of foreign matter, usually of stomach contents when vomiting (aspiration pneumonitis)
  • Exposure to an inhaled allergen (hypersensitivity pneumonitis)
  • Adverse reaction to a drug or toxic chemical (drug- or chemical-induced pneumonitis)
  • Radiation therapy to the lung for cancer
  • Sepsis — a body's inflammatory response to infection

Signs and symptoms depend on the severity and underlying cause, if known, and may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Burning sensation in chest

A doctor may diagnose pneumonitis based on:

  • History of the illness
  • Physical examination
  • Chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Blood tests
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Lung biopsy
  • Culture of lung secretions — organisms are grown from a sample of infected secretions

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include medications such as:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antibiotics

Last Updated: 09/21/2006
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