Pulmonary Fibrosis: Causes, Symptoms, & How To Manage It

Medically reviewed by Dr. Millie Lytle, ND, MPH Dr. Millie Lytle Dr. Millie LytleND, MPH facebook_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MSc Shaheen Naser MSc Experience: 3 years

Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung condition characterized by thick and scarred lung tissues that can make breathing difficult. Low oxygen flow not only affects your lungs but can also affect the functioning of other essential organs. With 5 million people affected globally, undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary fibrosis can be fatal. While it cannot be completely stopped or cured, there are a few ways to manage your pulmonary fibrosis naturally. The next time you experience shortness of breath without any cause, consult your doctor immediately. In this article, we explore the causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options available for pulmonary fibrosis. This will help you understand your health situation better and seek medical help on time. Keep reading to know more.

What Is Pulmonary Fibrosis?

Pulmonary fibrosis is a medical condition that affects the lungs. It is caused by damage and scarring to the lung tissues, which may make it difficult for your lungs to function normally. As pulmonary fibrosis advances, you start developing shortness of breath.

If the exact cause of this lung condition is known, it is referred to as pulmonary fibrosis. If the cause is unknown, it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The following are some of the main differences between these two conditions.

Pulmonary Fibrosis Vs. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

The main difference between pulmonary fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is that the cause of the former can be identified whereas that of the latter cannot be identified. Let’s look at the differences in detail.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

  • Its cause is identifiable.
  • There is no cure for reversing the damage caused to the lungs, but treatments can improve the symptoms and quality of life of the affected individual.
  • Although it also occurs in children, it mostly affects older individuals.
  • Its symptoms include shortness of breath, weight loss, dry cough, and clubbing of fingers.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

  • Its cause is unknown.
  • It has no known cure.
  • Most affected individuals only survive for 3 to 5 years post diagnosis.
  • It mainly affects middle-aged and older adults.
  • Its symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and, in some cases, clubbing of fingers.

Except for the cause, most of the characteristics of pulmonary fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are similar. And both are equally life-threatening.

The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis tend to advance or worsen if the condition is not managed. Staging of the disease is necessary to know how it is progressing. Although there is no official staging system for this condition, doctors often ask the affected individuals to go through certain tests to identify the stage of pulmonary fibrosis.

Pulmonary Fibrosis Stages

Of recent, doctors have started using an FVC (forced vital capacity) test to find the stage of pulmonary fibrosis. This test uses a spirometry device. The patient is often asked to take a deep breath and then breathe out into the spirometry device for as long as possible.

A decline that is greater than or equal to 10% of the forced vital capacity is considered the cut-off point when it comes to defining disease progression (1).

A test result of more than 75% is concluded to be moderate pulmonary fibrosis, and a result of 25-59% indicates that the condition has turned severe. If the test results in less than 25%, it means that the disease has advanced to a very critical stage.

The following signs and symptoms indicate the onset of pulmonary fibrosis.

Signs And Symptoms Of Pulmonary Fibrosis

Individuals affected by pulmonary fibrosis may show signs and symptoms such as:

  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • A dry cough
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Clubbing of the tips of the fingers and toes

Unlike idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is rather easy to detect. The following are some of the major factors responsible for causing pulmonary fibrosis or increasing its risk in unaffected individuals.

Causes And Risk Factors For Pulmonary Fibrosis

Your lung tissues could have scarred and damaged and caused pulmonary fibrosis due to a number of reasons. They are:

  • Environmental Factors – Long-term exposure of your lungs to toxins or pollutants like silica dust, metal dust, coal dust, grain dust or even bird/animal droppings can cause them to become scarred and damaged with time.
  • Radiation Treatments – Treatments that involve radiation or chemotherapy – as in the case of cancer – can also cause irreparable damage to your lungs.
  • Medications – Medicines like chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and a few drugs used to treat cardiac conditions are also capable of damaging your lungs and causing pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions – The onset of pulmonary fibrosis can also be due to underlying health issues like scleroderma, pneumonia, arthritis, sarcoidosis, etc.

Other factors that make you more susceptible to pulmonary fibrosis include:

  • Age: Middle-aged and older individuals are more affected than the younger lot.
  • Sex: Men are more likely to develop idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Smoking
  • Occupations that involve mining, farming, or construction
  • Genetics: Some types of pulmonary fibrosis are hereditary and could be running in your family.

If you feel that your symptoms are hinting at pulmonary fibrosis, it is best to undergo a few diagnostic tests to put your fears to rest.


Your doctor may first begin by reviewing your family and medical history.
They may also ask you to undergo a physical examination and look for possible signs and symptoms and review any long-term exposure you may have had to dust or toxins.

Your doctor may also advise you to take any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Imaging tests like a chest X-ray, CT scan, or echocardiogram.
  • Lung function detecting tests like pulmonary function test, pulse oximetry, exercise stress test, or an arterial blood gas test.
  • Bronchoscopy or a surgical biopsy if none of the other tests give proper results.

The damage caused to your lungs is often irreversible – and there is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis. However, you can take a few measures to manage your symptoms and the condition. Listed below are some home remedies that can help in managing the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis while improving the quality of life of the affected individuals.

How To Manage Pulmonary Fibrosis

  1. Essential Oils
  2. Vitamins
  3. Baking Soda
  4. Colloidal Silver
  5. Cod Liver Oil
  6. Serrapeptase
  7. Hemp Oil
  8. Seaweed
  9. Flaxseed Oil

Home Remedies To Manage Pulmonary Fibrosis

1. Essential Oils

a. Lavender Oil

You Will Need
  • 3-4 drops of lavender oil
  • A diffuser
  • Water
What You Have To Do
  1. Fill a diffuser with water.
  2. Add three to four drops of lavender oil to it.
  3. Inhale the diffused air.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this 1 to 2 times daily.

Why This Works

Lavender oil has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and immunomodulatory properties (2). It may reduce pain and inflammation in your lung tissues when inhaled. It also helps relieve stress and is great for your overall well-being (3).

b. Peppermint Oil

You Will Need
  • 3-4 drops of peppermint oil
  • A diffuser
  • Water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add three to four drops of peppermint oil to a diffuser filled with water.
  2. Turn on the diffuser and inhale the peppermint aroma.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this once daily.

Why This Works

Peppermint oil contains menthol – a widely used expectorant that exhibits anti-inflammatory activities (4). This makes peppermint oil (to a lesser extent than L-menthol alone) a potential remedy for treating the chronic symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis like muscle aches and inflammation of the lung tissues.

2. Vitamin D

You Will Need

2000-4000 IU vitamin D

What You Have To Do

Consume 50 to 100 mcg of vitamin D daily.

You can increase your dietary intake of vitamin D by consuming fatty fish, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, cheese, mushrooms, and shellfish.

You can also take additional supplements for vitamin D after consulting your doctor.

How Often You Should Do This

You must consume small amounts of vitamin D daily.

Why This Works

Vitamin D exhibits protective effects on pulmonary fibrosis. Individuals affected by pulmonary fibrosis are observed to have low vitamin D levels. Restoring vitamin D levels can help in decreasing the symptoms of inflammation and tissue destruction while also reversing some of the fibrous damage (5).

3. Baking Soda

You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 glass of water
What You Have To Do
  1. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water.
  2. Drink the solution before you have your meal.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this once daily.

Why This Works

The alkaline nature of baking soda helps increase the absorption of nutrients in your body and eliminates toxins. It also prevents acidity and aids digestion, thus protecting your lungs from further damage (6).

4. Colloidal Silver

You Will Need
  • 2.5 mL of colloidal silver solution
  • 1 glass of water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add 2.5 mL of colloidal silver solution to a glass of water.
  2. Stir well and drink.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this once daily.

Why This Works

Colloidal silver is a popular home remedy used for alleviating the symptoms of diseases like pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis. Anecdotally, the intake of this concoction has proven to be effective in increasing the functioning of lungs for many with pulmonary fibrosis. The potential efficacy of this remedy was also concluded in a case-study published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2008 (7).

5. Cod Liver Oil

You Will Need

1000-3000 mg cod liver oil

What You Have To Do

Take 1000 to 3000 mg supplement for cod liver oil. Consult a doctor before doing so.

How Often You Should Do This

You must do this on a daily basis.

Why This Works

Cod liver oil is derived from the liver of codfish. This oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and is great for promoting your overall health, including the health of your lungs (8). It is also a rich source of vitamin D and can help prevent pulmonary fibrosis from progressing further (5).

6. Serrapeptase

You Will Need

90-180 mg of serrapeptase

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume 90-180 mg of serrapeptase every 8 hours.
  2. You should take it two hours after eating or on an empty stomach.
  3. Avoid consuming any food for half an hour after taking serrapeptase supplements.

Note: We recommend you take these supplements after consulting a doctor.

How Often You Should Do This

You can do this on a daily basis.

Why This Works

Serrapeptase is a proteolytic enzyme derived from non-pathogenic enterobacter Serratia, which is found in silkworms. It has anti-inflammatory and fibrinolytic properties that can help reduce inflammation in the upper respiratory tract (9).

7. Hemp Oil

You Will Need

1-2 drops of hemp oil

What You Have To Do
  1. Put a drop or two of hemp oil under your tongue.
  2. Allow it to stay there for 60 to 90 seconds before swallowing it.
  3. You can also inhale the aroma of hemp oil for added benefits.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this once daily.

Why This Works

Hemp oil contains cannabidiol that helps reduce pain and inflammation in your lungs due to its anti-inflammatory properties (10). However, smoking cannabis products is found to damage the lungs.

8. Seaweed

You Will Need

150 to 250 mcg seaweed

What You Have To Do

Consume 150 to 250 mcg seaweed daily. You can either steep hot water with the seaweed extract or add a dash of dried seaweed to your favorite dishes and smoothies.

How Often You Should Do This

Do this once daily.

Why This Works

The complex polysaccharides in brown, red, and green seaweeds have broad-spectrum therapeutic properties. The sulfated polysaccharides i.e. carrageenans, fucans, and ulvans exhibit strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, and immunostimulatory properties that can not only promote your overall health but also inhibit the progression of idiopathic and drug-induced pulmonary fibrosis (11), (12).

9. Flaxseed Oil

You Will Need

½ – 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume half to one tablespoon of flaxseed oil.
  2. You can add it to your favorite salads or smoothies for easy consumption.
How Often You Should Do This

Consume flaxseed oil once daily.

Why This Works

Regular consumption of flaxseed oil has a protective effect on individuals affected by drug-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The short-chain omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil help in reducing lung fibrosis (13).

These remedies are helpful if you are in the initial stages of pulmonary fibrosis. But if you are in the advanced stage, you should seek medical help and avail treatment to help manage your symptoms.

Other Treatments To Manage Pulmonary Fibrosis

If you consult a doctor for pulmonary fibrosis, they may recommend the following treatments to manage the symptoms and increase your lifespan (14):

  • Medications like pirfenidone (Esbriet) and nintedanib (Ofev) to slow down the progression of pulmonary fibrosis
  • Oxygen therapy to stop lung damage
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation to improve your symptoms
  • Lung transplantation for severely damaged lungs

The onset of pulmonary fibrosis may also be marked by sudden weight loss. Hence, you need to consume healthy foods to avoid fatigue and fight this condition better. Here are a few diet tips to manage pulmonary fibrosis.

Diet Tips For Pulmonary Fibrosis

A healthy diet to manage pulmonary fibrosis effectively must include:

  • Protein-rich foods like fish and chicken
  • Citrus fruits
  • Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, and sweet potatoes
  • Antioxidant fruits like berries, cherries, mangoes, and bananas
  • Seaweed, fatty fish, flax seeds, mint and lavender tea

Following a healthy and well-balanced diet is important to build your immunity and help you manage the condition better. You must also adopt a healthy lifestyle by making the following changes to it.

Self-Care Tips

  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Steer clear of anything that may aggravate your symptoms like smoke, certain foods and drinks, high altitudes, etc.
  • Exercise regularly.

Pulmonary fibrosis, a life-threatening condition, is characterized by the damage and scarring of lung tissues. Depending on whether the cause for this damage is identified or unidentified, this condition is called pulmonary fibrosis or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Nevertheless, both conditions have similar symptoms and progress through stages and present symptoms such as shortness of breath, dry cough, weight loss, fatigue, and clubbed toes. While medical treatment is of vital importance, you may use the home remedies discussed here to manage pulmonary fibrosis symptoms and facilitate recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the prognosis for individuals affected by pulmonary fibrosis?

The overall prognosis for those affected by pulmonary fibrosis varies depending on the age, health, lifestyle, and the severity of the disease at diagnosis. The average life expectancy for patients is about 3 to 5 years (15). But if detected early, treatment can help in slowing down the progression of this condition.

What are the symptoms of the end stage of pulmonary fibrosis?

When pulmonary fibrosis advances to a more severe stage, it causes symptoms like chest pain, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, cough, dysfunctioning lungs, and disturbed sleep patterns.

Is pulmonary fibrosis always fatal?

Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease that is fatal to one’s health. Only a few individuals who are diagnosed with it early survive for more than 3 to 5 years.

Is pulmonary fibrosis the same as COPD?

Both pulmonary fibrosis (PF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are chronic diseases that affect the functioning of the lungs. These conditions are not the same and cause different kinds of damage to your lungs. Pulmonary fibrosis results in scarred, stiff, and thick lung tissues whereas COPD causes the air sacs in your lungs to become blocked.

Is pulmonary fibrosis a hereditary disease?

Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused if the affected individual’s family has had a history of the condition. This makes it a partially hereditary condition.


  1. Prognosis and Follow-Up of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis” Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
  2. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Effects of inhaled lavender essential oil on stress-loaded animals: changes in anxiety-related behavior and expression levels of selected mRNAs and proteins” Natural Product Communications, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. The anti-inflammatory activity of L-menthol compared to mint oil in human monocytes in vitro: a novel perspective for its therapeutic use in inflammatory diseases” European Journal of Medical Research, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Preventive effects of vitamin D treatment on bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis” Scientific Reports, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Sodium Bicarbonate” PubMed, US National Library of Medicine.
  7. Colloidal silver for lung disease in cystic fibrosis” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Cod liver oil, young children, and upper respiratory tract infections” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  9. Comparison of anti-inflammatory activity of serratiopeptidase and diclofenac in albino rats” Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics, US National Library of Medicine.
  10. Impact of Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Endocannabinoids in the Lungs” Frontiers In Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine.
  11. MS80, a novel sulfated oligosaccharide, inhibits pulmonary fibrosis by targeting TGF-β1 both in vitro and in vivo” Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, US National Library of Medicine.
  12. Therapeutic importance of sulfated polysaccharides from seaweeds: updating the recent findings” 3 Biotech, US National Library of Medicine.
  13. Dietary Flaxseed Oil Protects against Bleomycin-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis in Rats” Pulmonary Medicine, Hindawi.
  14. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis: Treatment and Prognosis” Clinical Medicine Insights: Circulatory, Respiratory and Pulmonary Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  15. Time for a change: is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis still idiopathic and only fibrotic?” The Lancet. Respiratory Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
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Dr. Millie Lytle

Dr. Millie LytleND, MPH

Dr. Millie Lytle has 8 years of experience in naturopathic medicine, is a member of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians (NYANP), and sits on the Medical Advisory Board for the School of Applied Functional Medicine
Read full bio of Dr. Millie Lytle

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