How Do I Manage Symptoms and Side Effects of Pulmonary Fibrosis?

Managing the symptoms and side effects that come from pulmonary fibrosis and its related treatments is something every PF patient has to face. One of the best resources available is a palliative care specialist. Once referred by your doctor, this specialist will provide you with personalized side effect management strategies. Below are some common PF side effects and tips for coping with them.

Shortness of Breath

  • Call your doctor right away if you have tightness in your chest, pain, fever or trouble breathing.
  • Use your oxygen as directed.
  • Practice breathing techniques.
  • There are some medications available that can help with shortness of breath, such as inhalers or steroids.
  • Stay active. Enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • Ask your doctor about purchasing a pulse oximeter so you can monitor your oxygen levels at home.


The cough associated with PF is usually a dry, hacking cough. It can be triggered by talking, eating, laughing or exercising. It is important to distinguish between PF-related cough and other well-known causes of cough (such as GERD, post-nasal drip and asthma).

  • Treat the cause when possible; for example, use medications for acid reflux or post-nasal drip.
  • Drink fluids, such as hot tea, with honey.
  • Use cough drops or cough medicine.
  • Ask your doctor about prescription medications available for cough.
  • Some patients may benefit from speech therapy to learn how to talk without triggering a cough.


  • Get plenty of rest and take short naps.
  • Stay active. Enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • Ask others to help with tasks such as grocery shopping or cleaning.
  • Eat nutritious foods.
  • Use your oxygen as directed.

Acid Reflux

Some PF patients also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which causes stomach acid to flow into your esophagus.

  • Ask your doctor about an anti-acid medication, designed to control acid reflux.
  • Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes, coffee and chocolate.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Some medications for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) can cause nausea, lack of appetite and diarrhea. Always take your medication with a meal. Ask your doctor about lowering your dose if you are unable to tolerate the side effects.

  • For loss of appetite:
    • Eat several small meals throughout the day if you are not hungry for big meals.
    • Add olive oil, milk or yogurt to increase calories and protein in a meal.
    • Take a walk before you eat.
    • Ask your doctor about medication to help increase your appetite.
  • For nausea or vomiting:
    • Ask your doctor about prescription medication to ease nausea.
    • Eat bland foods such as toast or rice.
    • Drink peppermint tea, ginger tea or ginger ale.
  • For diarrhea:
    • Avoid high fiber foods that are hard to digest (such as beans or raw vegetables).
    • Eat bland foods such as toast or rice.
    • Eat small meals and drink plenty of water between meals.
    • Ask your doctor about medications to help reduce diarrhea.

Understanding Palliative Care

Many people think palliative care is the same as hospice, when in fact, that is not true. Palliative care, sometimes called supportive care, is appropriate at all stages of the illness. Hospice is only for people in the last weeks to months of life when curative therapies are no longer of benefit. It is perfectly OK for you to ask for supportive care at any stage in PF treatment. Palliative care provides relief from a variety of physical and emotional symptoms and can help improve your quality of life.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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