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Interstitial lung disease - adults - discharge

You were in the hospital to treat your breathing problems that are caused by interstitial lung disease. This disease scars your lungs, which makes it hard for your body to get enough oxygen.

You received oxygen treatment, and you may need to keep using oxygen when you go home. Your doctor may have given you a new medicine to treat your lungs.

Keep active

To build up strength:

  • Try walking and slowly increasing how far you walk. Ask your doctor or therapist how far to walk.
  • Try not to talk when you walk.
  • Ride a stationary bike. Ask your doctor or therapist how long and how hard to ride.

Build your strength even when you are sitting.

  • Use small weights or rubber tubing to make your arms and shoulders stronger.
  • Stand up and sit down several times.
  • Hold your legs straight out in front of you, then put them down. Repeat this movement several times.

Ask your doctor whether you need to use oxygen during your activities, and if so, how much. Also ask whether you should do an exercise and conditioning program such as pulmonary rehabilitation.

Self-care

Eat smaller meals more often. It might be easier to breathe when your stomach is not full. Try to eat 6 small meals a day. Do not drink a lot of liquid before eating or with your meals.

Ask your doctor what foods to eat to get more energy.

Keep your lungs from becoming more damaged.

  • If you smoke, now is the time to quit.
  • Stay away from smokers when you are out.
  • Do not allow smoking in your home.
  • Stay away from strong odors and fumes.
  • Do breathing exercises.

Take all the medicines that your doctor prescribed for you.

Talk to your doctor if you feel depressed or anxious.

Stay away from infections

Get a flu shot every year. Ask your doctor if you should get a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine.

Wash your hands often; always after you go to the bathroom and when you are around people who are sick.

Stay away from crowds. Ask any visitors with colds to wear masks or to postpone their visits.

Make it easy for yourself at home

Place items you use a lot in spots where you do not have to reach or bend over to get them.

Use a cart with wheels to move things around the house and kitchen. Use an electric can opener, dishwasher, and other things that will make your chores easier to do. Use cooking tools (knives, peelers, and pans) that are not heavy.

To save energy:

  • Use slow, steady motions when you do things.
  • Sit down if you can when you are cooking, eating, dressing, and bathing.
  • Get help for harder tasks.
  • Do not try to do too much in one day.
  • Keep the phone with you or near you.
  • Wrap yourself in a towel rather than drying off.
  • Try to reduce stress in your life.

Going home with oxygen

Never change how much oxygen is flowing in your oxygen setup without asking your doctor.

Always have a back-up supply of oxygen in the home or with you when you go out. Keep the phone number of your oxygen supplier with you at all times. Learn how to use oxygen safely at home.

Follow-up

Your hospital doctor or nurse may ask you to make a follow-up visit with:

  • Your primary care doctor
  • A respiratory therapist who can teach you breathing exercises and how to use your oxygen
  • Your lung doctor (pulmonologist)
  • Someone who can help you stop smoking, if you smoke
  • A physical therapist, if you join a pulmonary rehabilitation program 

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if your breathing is:

  • Getting harder
  • Faster than before
  • Shallow, and you cannot get a deep breath

Also call your doctor if:

  • You need to lean forward when sitting in order to breathe easier
  • You are using muscles around the ribs to help you breathe
  • You are having headaches more often
  • You feel sleepy or confused
  • You have a fever
  • You are coughing up dark mucus
  • Your fingertips, or the skin around your fingernails is blue

References

Raghu G. Interstitial lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011: chap 92.

Selman M, Morrison LD, Noble PW, King TE Jr. Idiopathic interstitial pneumonias. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 57.

Update Date: 4/26/2014

Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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