Have you or your loved one recently been diagnosed with a lung condition? Or maybe you are noticing more intense shortness of breath, chest pain and cough? It may be time to head to your doctor to discuss respiratory health and what you can do to ensure healthy lungs and airways. If you suspect you or a loved one might need an evaluation for respiratory concerns, it’s important to consult a physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here is an overview of respiratory conditions and their distinctive traits*:
COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic asthma and forms of bronchiectasis. COPD causes inflammation in the airways that obstructs airflow to and from the lungs. Symptoms of COPD can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, persistent cough, phlegm, chest tightness, fatigue, weight loss and frequent respiratory infections. COPD is treatable with lifestyle changes and medications, however people with COPD are at an increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer and other chronic conditions.
Bronchitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, fatigue, slight fever, chills, chest discomfort and a hacking cough with phlegm. In severe cases treatment for bronchitis requires inhaled steroids and oxygen supplementation.
Emphysema is caused when the lining of the lung’s air sacs are damaged, causing airflow limitation. The lungs enlarge due to trapped air, which requires a person to use more effort to breathe. Emphysema can be caused by exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution or manufacturing fumes. Treatment can slow the progression of emphysema, but it cannot fix damaged lungs and air sacs. The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath (even at rest in severe cases). Emphysema has no cure, but quitting smoking and reducing exposure to other airborne irritants, can slow the progress.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and causes inflammation and fluid build-up in the air sacs in one or both lungs. In many cases pneumonia is considered mild, but sometimes can become life-threatening, especially in infants, seniors or people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, sweating, chills, cough with phlegm production, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
Allergies are a reaction by a person’s immune system to a foreign substance. Allergies can cause inflammation of the sinuses, skin, digestive tract or airways and cause itching, burning, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis and other discomfort. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be treated, but not cured.
Asthma causes airways to swell, narrow and produce extra mucus. Asthma can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath; and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. There is no cure for asthma, but symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment. Asthma can change throughout a person’s life, requiring continued management by doctors to ensure a person’s asthma stays under control.
Influenza, or flu, is a contagious viral illness that is most prominent from October to May. Flu infects the nose, throat and lungs and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of the flu include high fever, severe cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, extreme fatigue, weakness, vomiting and diarrhea. Flu spreads through droplets expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. If a person suspects they have influenza, a doctor can prescribe an antiviral to lessen the symptoms and severity of the illness.
The common cold is a contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, causing inflammation in the throat and nose. Most common colds lead to congestion, coughing, sneezing, itching or watery eyes and sore throat. Other symptoms can include fever, minor body aches and mild fatigue. The common cold generally lasts for one to two weeks.
Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited disease caused by a mutation of the CTFR gene which controls the way salt and water are moved throughout the body’s cells. The mucus produced by people with cystic fibrosis is thick and sticky and can block airways in the lungs and intestinal tracts of the digestive system. Cystic fibrosis causes a persistent cough that produces thick mucus, wheezing, breathlessness, exercise intolerance, frequent lung infections, congestion, gas, constipation, stomach pain and weight loss. The life expectancy of cystic fibrosis sufferers has improved over the years with people now living into their 50s and 60s.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and is most often, caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. Symptoms include new or worsening cough, coughing up blood or rust-colored mucus, fatigue, reoccurring lung infections, weight loss, hoarseness, wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries leading from the heart to the lungs that is caused by narrowing or blocked arteries in the lungs. The heart has to work harder to pump blood through the arteries, increasing pressure in the lungs. Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, passing out, racing heart or palpitations and edema (swelling in the ankles and lungs). There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, but proper treatment can reduce the symptoms and greatly improve a person’s quality of life.
*American Lung Association