Lung Disease and Respiratory System

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.

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    Coughing is how your body clears your lungs and airways. Coughing can also be a response to something that irritates your throat or airways. Sudden cough in babies or young children may mean they swallowed something that went into their windpipe. Usually, a cough is not harmful and will go away by itself. But sometimes it's a sign of an illness that needs treatment. Rarely, coughing warns of a dangerous problem that requires medical help right away.
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    Bronchitis and pneumonia: The common cold poses a risk for bronchitis and pneumonia in nursing home patients and other people who may be susceptible to infection. Some experts believe that the rhinovirus may play a more significant role than the flu in causing lower respiratory infections in such individuals.

    Bronchiolitis: Bronchiolitis is an infection of the airways of the lungs and usually occurs in young children between three and six months of age. RSV causes more than half of all bronchiolitis cases.

    Cough complications: Patients may develop headache, dizziness, and fractured ribs from a chronic cough.

    Lung cancer: Patients may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer if they have asbestosis. Additionally, both asbestosis and smoking put patients at an even higher risk for cancer.

    Untreated strep throat: Untreated strep throat may lead to serious complications such as glomerulonephritis (kidney disorder) and rheumatic fever (a potentially life-threatening illness that may damage the heart valves).

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    Smoking is one of the leading risk factors for developing a cough and other respiratory disorders. Additionally, women tend to have more sensitive cough reflexes making them more likely to develop a cough. Exposure to allergens such as dust and pollen may make a person more susceptible to developing a cough.

    Children who are five years old or younger or who were born prematurely are more likely to develop croup (a disease of infants and young children characterized by harsh coughing, hoarseness, fever, and difficult breathing).

    People most at risk for developing asbestosis (scarring of the lungs that results in difficulty breathing) include those who have had at least 10 years of moderate to severe exposure to asbestos, such as workers involved in mining, milling, manufacturing, or installation of asbestos products.

    Viral infections are the main cause of colds. They include: rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses, echoviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV), and coxsackieviruses, which can infect the upper respiratory system. Although over 100 different viruses may cause colds, 30-50% of colds are caused by rhinoviruses.

    The majority of patients hospitalized for RSV are under six months of age. For infants and children born prematurely (35 weeks gestation or less), RSV may cause serious respiratory tract disease or even death.

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    Respiratory illnesses are conditions affecting the upper respiratory tract, producing symptoms mainly in the nose and throat. Upper respiratory infections include conditions such as colds, laryngitis, pharyngitis, rhinitis, and sinusitis. Additionally, respiratory conditions include infections of the lower respiratory tract, which may affect the windpipe, airways, and lungs. Lower respiratory tract infections include conditions such as asbestosis, asthma, and sarcoidosis.

    The respiratory system consists of organs that process air in the body, including the nose, throat, and lungs. The nose is the entrance to the respiratory tract. The throat is the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (the tube that goes to the stomach). The lungs are the organs that make it possible for people to breathe; their principal function is to transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the bloodstream and to release carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere.

    During a normal day, the average person breathes nearly 25,000 times, taking in large amounts of air. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 342,000 Americans die from lung diseases each year; lung disease is the number three cause of death in the United States, responsible for one in seven deaths.

    Many factors, including genetics, pollutants and irritants, and infectious diseases, may affect the health of the respiratory system.

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    General: Mountain sickness is typically diagnosed if the patient was exposed to high altitudes and experiences symptoms that are characteristic of the disorder. If the patient is dizzy, fatigued, has a headache, and decreased appetite, acute mountain sickness (AMS) is diagnosed. If the patient has difficulty breathing, has a wet cough with frothy sputum, and makes gurgling sounds when breathing, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is diagnosed. If the patient has symptoms of an altered mental state, such as confusion and loss of coordination, high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is diagnosed. High altitude retinal hemorrhage (HARH) is diagnosed if the patient has blurred vision or bleeding in the eyes. In some cases, tests may need to be performed to confirm a diagnosis or measure the severity of organ damage.

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: If a patient has HACE, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain may be performed to confirm that the brain is swollen. During the procedure, which is performed at the hospital, a machine takes pictures of the brain.

    Ophthalmoscopy: Patients who experience blurred vision should visit their eye doctors. The doctor will use a hand-help instrument, called an ophthalmoscope, to view the eye. If bleeding is present, high altitude retinal hemorrhage (HARH) is diagnosed.

    Physical examination: The healthcare provider may hear crackling noises in the patient's lungs when he/she breathes. This indicates that there is fluid in the lungs and the patient has pulmonary edema.

    Pulse oximetry: A pulse oximetry test may be performed to determine how much oxygen is in the blood. During this painless procedure, a special clip is placed on the finger, earlobe, or toe. This clip passes two light waves through the skin to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. Healthy individuals have oxygen saturation between 95% and 99%. Patients with oxygen levels lower than 95% are diagnosed with mountain sickness.

    X-ray: A chest X-ray may show fluid filling in the lungs, which is characteristic of HAPE.

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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 a collection of blood in the space between the chest wall and the lung as a result of chest trauma. However, hemothorax can also be caused by a defect of blood clotting, pulmonary infarction, lung or pleural cancer, placement of a central venous catheter, thoracic or heart surgery, and tuberculosis.
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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.