Eosinophilic pneumonia (EP) is a disease in which a certain type of white blood cell called an eosinophil accumulates in the lung. These cells cause disruption of the normal air spaces (alveoli) where oxygen is extracted from the atmosphere. Several different kinds of eosinophilic pneumonia exist and can occur in any age group. The most common symptoms include cough, fever, difficulty breathing, and sweating at night. EP is diagnosed by a combination of characteristic symptoms, findings on a physical examination by a health provider, and the results of blood tests and x-rays. Prognosis is excellent once most EP is recognized and treatment with corticosteroids is begun
Most causes of eosinophilic pneumonia have similar symptoms. Cough, fever, increasing breathlessness, and night sweats are prominent and almost universal. Acute eosinophilic pneumonia typically follows a rapid course. Fever and cough may develop only one or two weeks before difficulties breathing progress to the point of respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation. Chronic eosinophilic pneumonia usually follows a slower course. Symptoms accumulate over several months and include fevers, cough, breathlessness, wheezing, and weight loss. Individuals with CEP are often diagnosed with asthma before CEP is finally recognized
Eosinophilic pneumonia is diagnosed in one of three circumstances: when a complete blood count reveals increased eosinophils and a chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) identifies abnormalities in the lung, when a biopsy identifies increased eosinophils in lung tissue, or when increased eosinophils are found in fluid obtained by a bronchoscopy (bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid). Association with medication or cancer is usually apparent after review of a person's medical history. Specific parasitic infections are diagnosed after examining a person's exposure to common parasites and performing laboratory tests to look for likely causes. If no underlying cause is found, a diagnosis of AEP or CEP is made based upon the following criteria. AEP is most likely with respiratory failure after an acute febrile illness of usually less than one week, changes in multiple areas and fluid in the area surrounding the lungs on a chest x-ray, and greater than 25% eosinophils on a BAL. Other typical laboratory abnormalities include an elevated white blood cell count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and immunoglobulin E level. Pulmonary function testing usually reveals a restrictive process with reduced diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide. CEP is most likely when the symptoms have been present for more than a month. Laboratory tests typical for CEP include increased blood eosinophils, a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate, iron deficiency anemia, and increased platelets. A chest x-ray can show abnormalities anywhere, but the most specific finding is increased shadow in the periphery of the lung, away from the heart.
Eosinophilic pneumonia due to cancer or parasitic infection carries a prognosis related to the underlying illness. AEP and CEP, however, have very little associated mortality as long as intensive care is available and treatment with corticosteroids is given. CEP often relapses when prednisone is discontinued; therefore, some people with CEP require lifelong therapy. Chronic prednisone is associated with many side effects, including increased infections, weakened bones, stomach ulcers, and changes in appearance.
When eosinophilic pneumonia is related to an illness such as cancer or parasitic infection, treatment of the underlying cause is effective in resolving the lung disease. When due to AEP or CEP, however, treatment with corticosteroids results in a rapid, dramatic resolution of symptoms over the course of one or two days. Either intravenous methylprednisolone or oral prednisone are most commonly used. In AEP, treatment is usually continued for a month after symptoms disappear and the x-ray returns to normal (usually four weeks total). In CEP, treatment is usually continued for three months after symptoms disappear and the x-ray returns to normal (usually four months total). Inhaled steroids such as fluticasone have been used effectively when discontinuation of oral prednisone has resulted in relapse. Because EP affects the lungs, individuals with EP have difficulty breathing. If enough of the lung is involved, it may not be possible for a person to breathe enough to live without support. Non-invasive machines such as a bilevel positive airway pressure machine may be used. Otherwise, placement of a breathing tube into the mouth may be necessary and a ventilator may be used to help the person breathe