Lung Disease and Respiratory System

Lung Disease and Respiratory System

Diseases, pollutants and genetics can affect your respiratory health. The simple cold - which is caused by more than 200 different viruses - inflames the upper respiratory tract, resulting in a cough, runny nose and sneezing. A more severe cough combined with mucus is a sign of bronchitis, where the membranes lining the bronchial tubes become inflamed. The inflammatory lung disease asthma affects more than 20 million people, making airways constrict when exposed to irritants like dust, pet dander and cigarette smoke. Pneumonia, another inflammation of the lungs, can occur because of a bacterial or viral infection. People suffering from cystic fibrosis, an inherited lung disease, frequently battle bacterial infections and airways clogged with thick and sticky mucus.

Recently Answered

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    Yoga: Yoga uses controlled breathing patterns to increase respiratory efficiency. Clinical study has found that at high altitude, subjects practicing yoga had improved oxygen use and ventilation and reduced changes in their blood that resembled Himalayan natives. More research is needed to further clarify the use of yoga in treatment of altitude sickness.

    Yoga is generally considered to be safe in healthy individuals when practiced appropriately. Avoid some inverted poses with disc disease of the spine, fragile or atherosclerotic neck arteries, risk for blood clots, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, detachment of the retina, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or cervical spondylitis. Certain yoga breathing techniques should be avoided in people with heart or lung disease. Use cautiously with a history of psychotic disorders. Yoga techniques are believed to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding when practiced under the guidance of expert instruction (the popular Lamaze techniques are based on yogic breathing). However, poses that put pressure on the uterus, such as abdominal twists, should be avoided in pregnancy.

    You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider. Natural Standard information does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.



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    Traumatic asphyxia is when a violent blow or compression of the chest and rib cage causes breathing to stop. Purple discoloration of the upper trunk and bright red color in the eyes is commonly seen. This requires CPR and immediate medical treatment. (This answer provided for NATA by the University of Montana Athletic Training Education Program.)
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    A hemothorax is when blood is present inside the chest wall. It is caused by either a punctured lung or a tearing in the lining of the lung involving the blood vessels in that area. Severe pain during breathing, difficulty breathing, or coughing up blood are all signs that a hemothorax has occurred. (This answer provided for NATA by the University of Montana Athletic Training Education Program.)
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    AHealthwise answered

    There is no one test to diagnose chronic lung disease. A doctor may first suspect it if your baby has trouble breathing. The diagnosis is confirmed when one of the following is present:

    • The baby needs extra oxygen for at least 28 days after birth.
    • At 36 weeks of gestational age, the baby needs more oxygen than is present in ordinary air. Gestational age is the number of weeks and days a baby has developed since the beginning of the pregnancy, or gestation.

    Babies with chronic lung disease usually have regular blood tests (including a blood gas test) to monitor how well their lungs are working. These tests may be done until the baby can breathe without extra oxygen.

    A number of tests may be done to rule out other causes of difficulty breathing and to learn whether complications of chronic lung disease are present.

    • A baby may have an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram to see how well the heart is working. Echocardiograms are usually repeated every 2 to 3 months until 4 to 6 months after oxygen therapy has stopped.
    • A baby may have a lung function test to find out how much damage has been done to the lungs. This test is repeated regularly as the child gets older. After results are normal, a child may no longer need lung function tests.


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    AHealthwise answered

    The symptoms of chronic lung disease may appear as early as 3 days after a baby is born. Usually this disease develops while the newborn is still in the hospital.

    Symptoms of difficulty breathing can include:

    • Grunting or rapid breathing
    • Flaring nostrils
    • Using the neck, chest and abdominal muscles to breathe, causing a "sucking in" between or under the ribs (retractions)
    • Wheezing (a high-pitched sound when breathing)
    • Tiring during and after feeding
    • Having pale, gray or blotchy skin, especially on the tongue, lips, earlobes and nail beds

    Infants who have chronic lung disease often need to stay in the hospital for several weeks to months, because they need extra oxygen. Some may require oxygen for a while after they go home.

    Usually, infants with chronic lung disease have less trouble breathing by early childhood. But many teens and young adults who had chronic lung disease as newborns have mildly decreased lung function. They may tire easily or notice they are short of breath during exercise. Many children have symptoms that are similar to those of asthma in early childhood. These symptoms may improve as the child grows. A few children have moderate to severe breathing problems, including difficulty breathing when they are resting.

    Infants who have chronic lung disease may have complications, including:

    • Respiratory infections that are often caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
    • Narrowing of the airway (laryngotracheal stenosis)
    • Collapse of the airway (tracheomalacia)


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    AHealthwise answered

    Most cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people go away in 2 to 3 weeks. You typically only need nonprescription medicines to treat your symptoms. Most people do not need to use prescription medicines, such as antibiotics.

    Medication Choices
    • Over-the-counter cough suppressants may help you to stop coughing. And expectorants may make coughing easier so you can bring up mucus. Cough and cold medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
    • Nonprescription pain relievers and fever reducers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20.

    Your doctor may prescribe:

    • Inhaled beta2-agonists, such as albuterol, which open up the airways and may relieve coughing in people with asthma or COPD who have a hard time breathing. But the possible benefits should be weighed against possible side effects of shaking, tremor and nervousness.
    • Antibiotics, which may be used to treat people who are at increased risk for complications from acute bronchitis. For acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people, antibiotics generally are not beneficial.
    What to Think About

    Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics. Using antibiotics when they are not needed is expensive, it can lead to side effects from antibiotic therapy and some bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic. This resistance may make the antibiotic less effective the next time you use it. Talk to your doctor about antibiotics. Find out whether they are needed and what their benefits and risks are in treating acute bronchitis.

    If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

    Corticosteroids, which may help relieve difficulty breathing, frequent wheezing or a persistent cough, may be prescribed if other medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma are present.

    Other medicines may be prescribed to treat complications, such as pneumonia. The medicine used depends on the complication.



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    AHealthwise answered

    Most cases of acute bronchitis go away in 2 to 3 weeks. Home treatment may help you feel better.

    Home treatment may include:

    • Relieving your cough by drinking fluids, using cough drops and avoiding lung irritants. Over-the-counter cough suppressants may help you to stop coughing. And expectorants may make coughing easier so you can bring up mucus. Cough and cold medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
    • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which cause you to lose extra fluid from your body and may lead to dehydration.
    • Cutting back or stopping smoking, if you smoke.
    • Getting enough rest so your body has the energy needed to fight the infection. In general, you feel better sooner if you rest more than usual while you have acute bronchitis.
    • Using nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, to relieve fever and body aches. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20.
    • Breathing moist air from a humidifier, hot shower or sink filled with hot water. The heat and moisture can help keep mucus in your airways moist so it can be coughed out easily.

    Contact your doctor if your acute bronchitis gets worse, because this may mean you have pneumonia. Signs of acute bronchitis getting worse include:

    • A persistent cough and increasing amounts of mucus being coughed up from the lungs (especially if the mucus is becoming thicker and has more color).
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Pain in the chest wall.
    • Ongoing fever or fever that gets worse.


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    AHealthwise answered

    You can help prevent acute bronchitis.

    • Avoid cigarette smoke. If you smoke, stop. People who smoke or are around others who smoke have more frequent bouts of acute bronchitis. Smoke (including secondhand smoke) reduces the body's ability to remove bacteria and viruses that can cause infections in the lungs.
    • Wear a face mask while working around irritants, such as dust. Specially designed masks are available to filter out dangerous chemicals or dust.
    • Avoid contact with those who have an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold, especially if you have an impaired immune system or another medical condition. Wash your hands often during the cold and flu season. If you catch a cold or influenza (flu), you are at an even higher risk for getting bronchitis.
    • Discuss with your doctor whether you should get a vaccine for the flu.

    If you have an upper respiratory tract infection, it may help to:

    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Drink enough liquids to avoid getting dehydrated.


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    A number of diseases and conditions can cause lungs to become so dysfunctional that one or both of them may need to be replaced through transplantation. These can include:

    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This disease, which mainly includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, involves obstruction of airflow through the airways and out of the lungs, and is usually permanent and progressive.
    • Pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease (ILD): ILD is a general term that includes many chronic lung disorders in which the lung is damaged, the walls of the air sacs become inflamed and then scarring (i.e., pulmonary fibrosis) begins in the tissue between the air sacs (interstitium). This causes the lungs to become stiff and smaller in volume.
    • Cystic fibrosis: This genetic disease is characterized by the production of abnormal secretions and damage to airways, leading to mucus buildup that impairs respiration when it occurs in the lungs.
    • Bronchiectasis: In this disorder, the airways become enlarged and distended, forming pockets where infection can develop. As a result, the lining of the airways become altered, which damages the lung's cleaning system and causes dust, mucus, and bacteria to accumulate, and infection to occur.
    • Pulmonary hypertension: This rare disorder in which the pressure in the pulmonary circulation is above normal levels can cause permanent damage to the lungs and become life-threatening. When there is no known cause, it is called primary pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension that occurs as a result of other disorders is called secondary pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension caused by abnormal development and defects in the heart and great vessels is called Eisenmenger's syndrome.
    • Sarcoidosis: A systemic disease in which chronic inflammation causes granulomas (small lumps) to develop in body tissues -- often in the lungs.
    • Lymphangioleiomyomatosis: This rare disease is characterized by a proliferation of muscle cells that cause the airways, blood and lymph vessels to become obstructed.
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    Symptoms of central airway obstruction include shortness of breath, recurrent pneumonias, or coughing up blood. Relief of tracheal or bronchial obstruction can often relieve these symptoms and improve quality of life for patients.