A dry cough is usually benign, but can be a sign of IPF if it persists or is accompanied by other symptoms. To help communicate your concerns to your healthcare providers and better advocate for yourself, Healthline offers 10 initial questions.  

If you have a persistent dry cough and are wondering if pulmonary fibrosis may be the cause, Colleen Story of Healthline shares 10 questions to help you start a conversation with your provider.*

1. Can you explain IPF?

Your provider should explain that pulmonary fibrosis means excessive scarring of lung tissue that makes it hard for oxygen to be delivered to your body. When providers can’t find a specific cause, they call it idiopathic.

2. Do I show IPF symptoms?

Common symptoms of IPF include dry, hacking cough; coughing fits; shortness of breath; fatigue; muscle and joint pain; and weight loss.

3. If so, does this mean I have IPF?

If you present the above symptoms, they may be a sign of another condition or they may be a sign of IPF. Your provider will also interview you to determine other IPF risk factors such as asbestos exposure, history of certain viral infections, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), smoking, etc.

4. How will I be diagnosed?

Providers typically will not diagnose IPF based simply on symptoms. They will perform scans of your lungs, which may include chest x-rays, exercise tests, high-resolution CT scans, biopsies, and/or lung function tests.

5. What does it mean if I have IPF?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for IPF. Thus, you will need to take time to learn to accept and understand the disease so you can best manage it. Depending on the severity of your disease state, your provider will offer treatment and symptom management options.

Questions to ask my doctor about IPF

6. What can be done?

Treatment for IPF exists, but is not curative. Rather, the focus is on treating symptoms and slowing disease progression.

  • Pirfenidone (Esbriet®) and nintedanib (OFEV®) are two medications approved by the FDA for slowing IPF progression.
  • Oxygen therapy can help you stay active without becoming breathless.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation teaches patients breathing techniques and helps to improve lung function through structured exercise.
  • Lung transplant surgery is an option for more severe cases of the disease.

7. Should I expect other symptoms?

As IPF progresses, you may see an increase in shortness of breath (dyspnea), chest pain and fatigue. Dietary changes and exercise programs can help you cope with these.

8. What other complications can occur?

Your provider should educate and monitor you for pulmonary hypertension, heart disease, lung infections, lung cancer, and other signs of respiratory failure.

9. What does my future look like with IPF?

Previously, patients with IPF could expect to live for two to five years maximum. However, new medications and clinical trials have extended that timeline.

10. How can I feel better?

Lifestyle changes can promote major improvements in your symptoms.

  • Staying active and eating healthy can always put your body in a positive position.
  • To account for breathlessness, eat smaller meals and schedule short periods of activity rather than long stretches that are more prone to cause fatigue.
  • Support groups, as well as meditation and yoga, can improve negative emotions.
  • Additionally, staying away from secondhand smoke and updating annual vaccines can help prevent further illness and infection with an already taxed immune system.

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*Story, C. (23 February, 2017). Doctor Discussion Guide: Could I Have IPF? Healthline.

(The article was originally reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on February 23, 2017.)