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Chronic Beryllium Disease: Treatment

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This information was reviewed and approved by Lisa A. Maier, MD, MSPH, FCCP (6/30/2021).

Can CBD be cured?

At the present time, there is no known cure for CBD. However, with monitoring and treatment by your physician, the disease can be slowed. Researchers in the United States and abroad are studying the biological mechanisms of CBD to better understand how the disease works and the complicated biological processes involved. Eventually, this research may lead to better treatments for CBD, if not a complete cure.


How is CBD treated?

CBD is treated differently for each patient, as the course and progression of the disease is different for each individual. Not everyone who has CBD will need treatment, but many patients will eventually need treatment as the disease progresses. The type of treatment a patient requires depends on the severity of the disease. In general, the goals of treatment for CBD are to improve the symptoms, to protect the lungs from further damage caused by inflammation and scarring, and to improve the oxygen levels in the bloodstream. The treatment of CBD is designed to manage the symptoms. At National Jewish Health®, our goal is to help you maintain your normal lifestyle as much as possible, so that you can continue to enjoy the people and activities that are important to you. As a result, we do recommend a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, regular exercise and sleep.

If CBD is diagnosed in early stages, the lung function may be normal and no symptoms of the illness apparent. As the disease progresses, symptoms, such as dry cough or wheezing, similar to asthma, may become noticeable. An inhaled steroid may be prescribed to manage these symptoms. Symptoms may worsen, or abnormalities in gas exchange (the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide in the bloodstream) may be detected as the disease progresses. At that time, an immunosuppressive medication, such as prednisone, may be prescribed. Once the disease is advanced, supplemental oxygen may be necessary.



Will I need to take prednisone for my CBD?

If an individual with CBD requires medication to improve symptoms and lung function, the drug most commonly prescribed is prednisone.

Immunosuppressive medications, such as prednisone, slow the immune system’s response to the beryllium in your lungs, and generally help decrease symptoms while improving gas exchange between the lungs and bloodstream. Typically, patients are given a course of prednisone that is gradually decreased over a period of time. Long-term use of prednisone does have side effects, and you should discuss the risks and benefits of prednisone use with your physician before beginning treatment.


Are there other medications that can be used to treat CBD?

Other immunosuppressive drugs may be used in combination with prednisone. The most commonly used agents are methotrexate and azathioprine. While they may effectively decrease the amount of prednisone needed, and hence the steroid side effects, they have their own side effects, and the risks and benefits of these medications needs to be carefully considered before they are used. Other types of immunomodulatory agents may be helpful, such as the TNF-a blocking agent Infliximab, and antioxidants, and other therapies are being investigated.


Follow Up

How often should I see my doctor?

Patients with CBD should see their physician at least once a year. At that time, you should have pulmonary function tests and exercise tolerance tests to see if your lungs are having difficulty exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and a chest X-ray or CT scan to check for inflammation and scarring in the lungs. The types of testing your physician performs may be different based on your overall health. If you develop worsening symptoms of CBD, you should see your physician as soon as possible. Patients with more advanced disease should see a physician more frequently. You should talk with your physician about how frequently you should be seen.


For more information on beryllium, please contact National Jewish Health® at 1.800.222.5864 extension 1722.

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