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Lung scarring - what is it and what can you do about it?

By Monica van de Weerd

The medical name for lung scarring is pulmonary fibrosis and it’s pretty serious – so what is it?

Normally, lung tissue is thin and lacy but when fibrosis occurs, it’s like any scars on our body, there is a thickening of the tissue and a reduction in flexibility.  This means when breathing, inhaling and exhaling, it’s harder for the tissue to expand and contract leading to less oxygen in our blood stream.  We require more energy to breathe and the additional energy demand, leads to shortness of breath.

Zestt Wellness co-founder, Darcy Schack, describes it as “like trying to breathe through a straw” and I have certainly seen him suffering quietly, and not so quietly, on many occasions.

There are many known causes of pulmonary fibrosis and unknown causes as well.  Exposure to toxins like asbestos, coal dust or silica can be incredibly problematic with tiny particles lodging in the lung tissue itself, causing permanent scarring.  Some medications are known to have side effects of pulmonary fibrosis (amiodarone, bleomycin, nitrofurantoin, to name a few).  There are also a group of diseases known as collagen vascular diseases which cause pulmonary fibrosis.  This group of disease includes systemic lupis, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.  Lung scarring can also be caused or influenced by our genetic make-up – hereditary diseases.

There are some very interesting scientific papers coming to light which are attempting to alter biochemical pathways associated with pulmonary fibrosis, and new antifibrotic therapies approved for treatment to slow down lung function decline.

Increased lung inflammation is also associated with pulmonary fibrosis and there are a number of pharmaceutical and plant-derived natural compounds which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs which can make breathing easier.

Anyone with pulmonary fibrosis should have a treatment plan from their medical practitioner.  To add to that, there are lifestyle changes which can improve ease of breathing, including reducing exposure to toxins, like cigarettes, incrementally increasing exercise and eating purple food rich in anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory effects, such as black currents, boysenberries and beets.

Of course, living with any chronic disease is more than the medical treatment.  Darcy tells me chronic disease sufferers refer to themselves as “spoonies” – people who need to ration their energy during the day, with the “spoon” being the measure of energy.  Spoonies understand that trying to describe living with chronic disease to fully, fit and healthy people, is near impossible.

As one of those fully fit and healthy people, I can only begin to try to understand what it is like to live with pulmonary fibrosis.  Certainly, with Zestt Wellness, we recognise that the wellness journey is different for all of us and we really want to create a community where care and understanding comes before anything. 

Pharmaceuticals are part of the equation, so too are empathy, connection and laughter – perhaps the best medicines of all.

- ZESST WELLNESS.

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