What is lung disease?
Lung disease refers to disorders that affect the lungs, the organs that allow us to breathe. Breathing problems caused by lung disease may prevent the body from getting enough oxygen. Examples of lung diseases are:
- Asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema;
- Infections, such as influenza and pneumonia;
- Lung cancer;
- Sarcoidosis and pulmonary fibrosis.
The lungs are part of a complex apparatus, expanding and relaxing thousands of times each day to bring in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Lung disease can result from problems in any part of this system. Lung diseases are some of the most common medical conditions in the world.
How common is lung disease?
Lung disease is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of lung disease?
The signs and symptoms can differ by the type of lung disease. Common signs are:
- Trouble breathing;
- Shortness of breath;
- Feeling like you’re not getting enough air;
- Decreased ability to exercise;
- A cough that won’t go away;
- Coughing up blood or mucus;
- Pain or discomfort when breathing in or out.
Common symptoms of asthma are:
- Chest tightness;
- Shortness of breath.
Common symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are:
- An ongoing cough that often produces large amounts of mucus.
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity;
- Chest tightness.
Common symptoms of lung cancer:
- A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse.
- Breathing trouble, like shortness of breath;
- Coughing up blood;
- Chest pain;
- Hoarseness or wheezing;
- Pneumonia that doesn’t go away or that goes away and comes back;
- Loss of appetite, or unexplained weight loss.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes lung disease?
Causes of Asthma:
It isn’t clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.
Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies (allergens) can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. Asthma triggers are different from person to person and can include:
- Airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste;
- Respiratory infections, such as the common cold;
- Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma);
- Cold air;
- Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke;
- Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve);
- Strong emotions and stress;
- Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat.
Causes of COPD:
- Cigarette smoke and other irritants: In the vast majority of cases, the lung damage that leads to COPD is caused by long-term cigarette smoking. But there are likely other factors at play in the development of COPD, such as a genetic susceptibility to the disease, because only about 20 to 30 percent of smokers may develop COPD. Other irritants can cause COPD, including cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes.
- Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency: In about 1 percent of people with COPD, the disease results from a genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) is made in the liver and secreted into the bloodstream to help protect the lungs. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can affect the liver as well as the lungs. Damage to the lung can occur in infants and children, not only adults with long smoking histories. For adults with COPD related to AAt deficiency, treatment options include those used for people with more-common types of COPD. In addition, some people can be treated by replacing the missing AAt protein, which may prevent further damage to the lungs.
Causes of lung cancer:
Smoking causes the majority of lung cancers — both in smokers and in people exposed to secondhand smoke. But lung cancer also occurs in people who never smoked and in those who never had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. In these cases, there may be no clear cause of lung cancer.
What increases my risk for lung disease?
There are many risk factors for Asthma, such as:
- Having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma;
- Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever);
- Being overweight;
- Being a smoker;
- Exposure to secondhand smoke;
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution;
- Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing.
There are many risk factors for COPD, such as:
- Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
- People with asthma who smoke. The combination of asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more.
- Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
- Exposure to fumes from burning fuel. In the developing world, people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes are at higher risk of developing COPD.
- COPD develops slowly over years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin.
- The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.
There are many risk factors for Lung Cancer, such as:
- Your risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can significantly lower your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke. Even if you don’t smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases if you’re exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Exposure to radon gas. Radon is produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water that eventually becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes.
- Radon testing kits, which can be purchased at home improvement stores, can determine whether levels are safe. If unsafe levels are discovered, remedies are available.
- Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens. Workplace exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer — such as arsenic, chromium and nickel — also can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you’re a smoker.
- Family history of lung cancer. People with a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is lung disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Asthma:
To diagnose asthma, the doctor asks about your symptoms and what seems to trigger them, reviews your health history, and does a physical exam. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may do other tests, such as:
- Spirometry (speye-ROM-eh-tree). The doctor uses a medical machine called a spirometer. This test measures how much air you can breathe in and out. It also measures how fast you can blow air out. The doctor may also give you medicines and then retest you to see if your results improve.
- Bronchoprovocation (bron-KOH-prah-vuh-KAY-shun). Your lung function is tested using spirometry while more stress is put on the lungs. This may be during physical activity or after you breathe in increasing doses of a special chemical or cold air.
- Chest x-ray or EKG (electrocardiogram). These tests can sometimes find out if another disease or a foreign object may be causing your symptoms.
- Other tests. The doctor may want to test for other problems that might be causing the symptoms. These include stomach acid backing up into the throat, vocal cord problems, or sleep apnea.
Diagnosis of COPD:
To find out if you have COPD, the doctor will:
- Asking about your symptoms;
- Asking about your medical history, including family history;
- Asking about your history of exposure to things that can cause COPD, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, or chemicals
- Conducting a physical exam, including using a stethoscope to listen for wheezing or other abnormal chest sounds.
The main test to check for COPD is spirometry. For this test, you will be asked to take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can into a tube that is connected to a spirometer. This machine measures how much air you breathe out and how fast. Other tests can include:
- Chest x-ray or chest computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests create pictures of the heart and lungs. The pictures can show signs of COPD. They can also show whether your symptoms are caused by another condition, such as heart failure.
- Arterial blood gas test. This blood test measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. It can help determine how severe the COPD is and whether oxygen therapy is needed.
Diagnosis of Lung Cancer:
Common tests for diagnosis of lung cancer include:
- Chest x-rays. Chest x-rays allow doctors to “see” abnormal growths in the lungs.
- Computerized tomography scans (CT scans). CT scans are more powerful than standard x-rays. The images can show subtle signs of cancer that don’t show up on x-rays. This can increase the chances of finding the cancer before it spreads further.
- Sputum cytology. A sample of mucus that you cough up is studied to see if it has cancer cells in it.
- Doctors pass a special tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs. They can see into the lungs and remove small bits of tissue to test.
- Fine-needle aspiration. Doctors pass a needle through the chest wall into the lung to remove a small amount of tissue or fluid.
- Thoracotomy (thohr-uh-KOT-oh-mee). Doctors cut open the chest and remove tissue from the lungs.
How is Lung Disease treated?
Treatment of Asthma
Asthma is a chronic disease. Medicines can be used to treat asthma, but they cannot cure it. You can help control your symptoms by working with your doctor to set up and then follow a personal asthma action plan. The plan will include possible medications and ways to avoid things that trigger your asthma.
Your asthma action plan will show:
- The kinds of medicines you should take;
- When to take your medicines;
- How to regularly monitor your asthma.
- Ways to avoid what triggers your asthma;
- When to call your doctor or go to the emergency room;
- Taking medicines.
Asthma medicines work by opening the lung airways. The medicines used to treat asthma fall into two groups: long-term control and quick relief.
Long-term control medicines are to be taken every day, usually over a long period of time. They help prevent symptoms from starting. Once symptoms occur, they do not give quick relief. These medicines include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids. These are the preferred medicines for long-term asthma control. They relieve airway inflammation and swelling.
- Long-acting beta2-agonists. These inhaled medicines are often added to low-dose inhaled corticosteroids to improve long-term asthma control.
- Leukotriene modifiers. These pills help block the chain reaction that causes inflammation in the airways.
- Cromolyn and nedocromil. These inhaled medicines can help keep airways from reacting in response to an asthma trigger.
- This is a pill that helps open the airways.
Quick-relief medicines are used only when needed. These include short-acting inhaled beta2-agonists and short-acting bronchodilators, like albuterol and pirbuteral. Quick-relief medicines often relieve symptoms in minutes. They do this by quickly relaxing tightened muscles around the airways. They are taken when symptoms worsen to prevent a full-blown asthma attack and to stop attacks once they have started.
Avoid things that make your asthma worse. Common asthma triggers are tobacco smoke, animal dander, dust mites, air pollution, mold, and pollens. You can try “fragrance-free” products if your asthma is triggered by fragrances. Talk to your doctor about allergy shots if your asthma symptoms are linked to allergens that you cannot avoid. The shots may lessen or prevent the symptoms but will not cure the asthma. You can reduce your exposure to air pollution by limiting your outdoor activities on days when the air quality in your neighborhood is poor.
Treatment of COPD:
Damage to the lungs cannot be repaired. The disease can be slowed by avoiding certain exposures, though. For smokers, the best approach is to stop smoking. You should also limit your exposure to smoke, dust, fumes, and irritating vapors at home and work. Also limit outdoor activities during air pollution alerts. Treatment can relieve symptoms. Common medicines are:
- Bronchodilators to open up air passages in the lungs
- Inhaled steroids to relieve symptoms by reducing inflammation in the lungs
- Antibiotics to clear up infections in the lungs
For patients with COPD, doctors may also recommend:
- Flu shots. Influenza (flu) can cause serious problems for people with COPD.
- Pneumonia shots. The pneumococcal (NOO-muh-kok-uhl) vaccine reduces the risk of some kinds of pneumonia.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation. This treatment helps people cope physically and mentally with COPD. It can include exercise, training to manage the disease, diet advice, and counseling.
- Oxygen therapy. The patient receives extra oxygen, either through a tube or mask.
- Sometimes surgery can help people with severe COPD feel better. Lung transplant surgery is becoming more common for people with severe emphysema. Another procedure called lung volume reduction surgery is also used to treat some patients with severe COPD of the emphysema type. In this surgery, the most damaged part of each lung is removed.
Treatment of Lung Cancer:
Sometimes lung cancer treatments are used to try to cure the cancer. Other times, treatments are used to stop the cancer from spreading and to relieve symptoms.
Your specific treatment will depend on:
- The type of lung cancer
- Where the cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of the body
- Your age and overall health
Your doctor may recommend one treatment or a combination of treatments.
- Surgery is used to remove the lung tissue that has the cancerous tumor. Sometimes a large part of a lung or all of it is removed. When the cancer has not spread, surgery can cure the patient.
- Radiation therapy uses a machine to aim high-energy x-rays at the tumor. This energy kills cancer cells. Radiation therapy can relieve pain and make a person feel better.
- Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy medicines can be given through a vein or taken as a pill.
- Targeted therapy uses medicine to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. It can be given through a vein or taken as a pill.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Lung Disease?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Lung Disease:
- Stop smoking. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do is stop. Talk to your doctor about the best way to quit. All kinds of smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and marijuana) can boost the chances of lung disease.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. If you live or work with people who smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, ask them to smoke outside. Non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free workplace.
- Test for radon. Find out if there are high levels of the gas radon in your home or workplace. You can buy a radon test kit at most hardware stores. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers information on how to deal with radon.
- Avoid asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs, lung cancer, and other serious lung disease. Asbestos can be a particular concern for those whose jobs put them in contact with it. This includes people who maintain buildings that have insulation or other materials that contain asbestos and people who repair car brakes or clutches. Employers of those who work with asbestos should offer training about asbestos safety and should regularly check levels of exposure. They also should provide ways to limit exposure, such as special breathing masks that filter asbestos dust from the air.
- Protect yourself from dust and chemical fumes. Working in dusty conditions and with chemicals can increase your risk of lung disease. And the risk is not just from industrial chemicals. Many products used at home, like paints and solvents, can cause or aggravate lung disease. Read labels and carefully follow instructions for use. If possible, avoid using products that cause eye, nose, or throat irritation. If you can’t avoid them, use them as little as possible and only in a well-ventilated area. Wear protective equipment such as a special mask. Make sure you know which type of equipment you need and how to wear it.
- Eat a healthy diet. The National Cancer Institute notes that studies show that eating a lot of fruits or vegetables may help lower the risk of lung cancer. Of course, diet can’t undo the damage caused by unhealthy behaviors like smoking.
- Ask your doctor if you should have a spirometry test. Some groups recommend routine spirometry testing of at-risk people, such as people who are over 45 and smoke and those who are exposed to lung-damaging substances at work.
- Ask your doctor about protecting yourself from flu and pneumonia with vaccinations.
- See your doctor if you have a cough that won’t go away, trouble breathing, pain or discomfort in your chest, or any of the other symptoms described here.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Lung disease fact sheet. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/lung-disease.html. Accessed November 6, 2016.
Asthma. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/basics/definition/con-20026992. Accessed November 6, 2016.
COPD. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/home/ovc-20204882. Accessed November 6, 2016.
Lung cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/basics/definition/con-20025531. Accessed November 6, 2016.
Review Date: December 8, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017