Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the lungs by harming the tissue around them and causing interstitial lung disease, a severe complication that results from the inflammation and scarring of lung tissue, explains Everyday Health. Rheumatoid arthritis also sometimes causes pulmonary fibrosis, in which the respiratory tissues become permanently scarred. Other possible complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis include lung nodules, pleurisy or pleural tissue inflammation, and effusion or the accumulation of fluid in the lungs' pleural space.
Interstitial lung disease is usually hard to detect because it seldom causes symptoms, notes Everyday Health. Some patients who develop the disease experience dry cough or shortness of breath. In patients with pulmonary fibrosis, replacement of healthy air sacs with scar tissue leads to panting. They experience easier breathing by using supplemental oxygen.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients who develop lung nodules also rarely experience symptoms, according to Everyday Health. Damage to the lung lining called pleura is common among rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Trouble breathing and chest discomfort result from pleurisy, while panting, persistent cough or a collapsed lung occurs due to effusion.
To prevent rheumatoid arthritis complications, Everyday Health recommends quitting smoking, as cigarettes contain irritants that harm the lung tissue. Scheduling regular checkups is also important, allowing doctors to monitor a patient's lung condition and detect lung problems early.