Radiation pneumonitis is a form of lung injury. This is brought about by an irritant. The condition occurs to some individuals after undergoing radiation therapy to the chest or lung region.
Even though it is likely to arise 4-12 weeks after radiation therapy, it might develop as early as 1 week after treatment. In some cases, it manifests steadily over a span of several months.
What are the signs?
The chief signs of radiation pneumonitis include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Flu-like symptoms
- Sensation of fullness in the chest
The symptoms strikingly resemble both pneumonia and lung cancer. If an individual has undergone radiation therapy in the last few months and experiences these symptoms, a doctor must be seen.
Management of radiation pneumonitis
The treatment for radiation pneumonitis is based on the seriousness of the condition. In most cases, the symptoms subside within 7-10 days of onset. Nevertheless, severe cases require an aggressive approach.
The commonly used treatment for severe cases is a lengthy course of corticosteroids specifically prednisone. These drugs work by reducing the inflammation in the lungs by suppressing the immune system. Since this also increases the risk for infection, the doctor will provide instructions on protecting the body while they are used.
Other treatment options for radiation pneumonitis include:
- Cough suppressants
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
An individual can recover from radiation pneumonitis within 1-2 weeks. If corticosteroids are used, there is a significant reduction in the symptoms in 1-2 days.
During recovery, other measures to help manage the symptoms include:
- Increased intake of fluids to keep the throat moist
- Use a humidifier for added moisture to the air
- Sleep on an extra pillow to elevate the upper body to allow better breathing
- Adequate rest as soon as shortness of breath is experienced
- Stay indoors during hot or cold days since these can irritate the lungs