Interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) are a heterogeneous group of diseases characterized by widespread fibrotic and inflammatory abnormalities of the lung. Respiratory failure is a common complication in advanced stages or following acute worsening of the underlying disease. Aim of this review is to evaluate the current evidence in determining the best management of acute respiratory failure (ARF) in ILDs.
A literature search was performed in the Medline/PubMed and EMBASE databases to identify studies that investigated the management of ARF in ILDs (the last search was conducted on November 2017).
In managing ARF, it is important to establish an adequate diagnostic and therapeutic management depending on whether the patient has an underlying known chronic ILD or ARF is presenting in an unknown or de novo ILD. In the first case both primary causes, such as acute exacerbations of the disease, and secondary causes, including concomitant pulmonary infections, fluid overload and pulmonary embolism need to be investigated. In the second case, a diagnostic work-up that includes investigations in regards to ILD etiology, such as autoimmune screening and bronchoalveolar lavage, should be performed, and possible concomitant causes of ARF have to be ruled out. Oxygen supplementation and ventilatory support need to be titrated according to the severity of ARF and patients' therapeutic options. High-Flow Nasal oxygen might potentially be an alternative to conventional oxygen therapy in patients requiring both high flows and high oxygen concentrations to correct hypoxemia and control dyspnea, however the evidence is still scarce. Neither Non-Invasive Ventilation (NIV) nor Invasive Mechanical Ventilation (IMV) seem to change the poor outcomes associated to advanced stages of ILDs. However, in selected patients, such as those with less severe ARF, a NIV trial might help in the early recognition of NIV-responder patients, who may present a better short-term prognosis. More invasive techniques, including IMV and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, should be limited to patients listed for lung transplant or with reversible causes of ARF.
Despite the overall poor prognosis of ARF in ILDs, a personalized approach may positively influence patients' management, possibly leading to improved outcomes. However, further studies are warranted.