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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    Because most cases of bronchitis are caused by the same kind of contagious virus that causes the common cold, one of the best ways to prevent bronchitis is to wash your hands frequently. You should also consider getting an annual flu shot and should try to avoid contact with others who have respiratory infections or the flu. If you smoke, another important factor is to quit smoking. This will greatly reduce the risk of bronchitis. When you are exposed to irritants in the air, such as dust or fumes, wearing a mask or other protective gear to protect your lungs can also help prevent bronchitis. Your doctor might also recommend getting a pneumonia vaccine, especially if you are over 60 years old or have other issues that increase your risk of bronchitis and pneumonia.

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    To help prevent acute bronchitis:
    • Avoid smoking.
    • Avoid exposure to second hand smoke and do not expose children to second hand smoke.
    • Practice good hand hygiene.
    • Keep you and your child up to date with recommended immunizations.
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    Hyperventilation is breathing faster and deeper than what is considered normal for you. Doing this causes a decrease in carbon dioxide in your blood. Hyperventilation can cause symptoms such as:
    • lightheadedness
    • numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
    • fainting
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    When you hyperventilate, it is not because you are not getting enough oxygen. The problem is that your carbon dioxide is too low in relationship to the amount of oxygen you are taking in. (This answer provided for NATA by the University of Montana Athletic Training Education Program.)
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    Symptoms of empyema include:
    • Chest pain
    • Dry cough
    • Excessive sweating
    • Fever and chills
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue
    • Unintentional weight loss
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    Empyema is a collection of pus in the pleural (or chest) space, caused by an infection that spreads from the lung and leads to a buildup of pus in the pleural space. Risk factors for empyema include bacterial pneumonia, lung abscess, previous thoracic surgery, or trauma or injury to the chest. Empyema can occur when a needle is inserted through the chest wall to draw fluid from the pleural space.
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    Empyema occurs when a lung infection spreads to the pleural cavity. This infection may be from pneumonia or pus that first developed in the lungs. Another possible cause is an infection that results after a chest injury.

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    Altitude sickness, also called mountain sickness, is an illness that occurs when the body is unable to adjust to high elevations. Symptoms of mountain sickness range from a mild headache and fatigue to a life-threatening build-up of fluid in the lungs or brain.

    Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the mildest and most common type of mountain sickness. Mountain sickness typically develops when patients travel to elevations higher than 8,000 feet above sea level at a rate that is faster than 1,000 feet per day. Researchers estimate that nearly 50% of people who start at or near sea level and climb to 14,000 feet without scheduling rest time develop this condition.

    If patients with AMS continue to climb or travel to higher elevations despite their symptoms, their condition may progress to a more severe form, such as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs, making breathing difficult. Additional treatments, such as supplemental oxygen, may help reduce symptoms. If left untreated, the condition can lead to respiratory failure and death. HAPE is the number one cause of death from mountain sickness.

    AMS may also develop into a severe condition called high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). This condition occurs when fluid builds up inside the brain, causing the brain to swell. As the brain swells, the person begins to feel confused and coordination becomes impaired. Some patients may experience permanent mental impairment and loss of coordination. The severity of these impairments varies among patients. If HACE is not treated, patients will develop a coma and die. More than 50% of HACE patients who develop a coma die.

    Some patients with AMS may develop high altitude retinal hemorrhage (HARH). This condition occurs when there is bleeding in the eye(s). Bleeding may not be visible to the patient. A common symptom is blurred vision. Left untreated, HARH may lead to permanent eye damage or vision loss.

    Patients with mountain sickness may develop HAPE, HACE, or HARH separately, or they may develop more than one of these conditions at the same time.

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    Anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs can become ill from the effects of high altitude, but there hasn't been much research on the topic. Like humans, at high altitudes some dogs stop eating, show discomfort and have no energy. If a dog is exhibiting symptoms, it is wise not to take the dog any higher. Also be sure it has plenty of water. If there is no improvement, it is a good idea to take the dog to a lower elevation.

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    Atmospheric pressure - measured with a barometer and also known as barometric pressure - measures the air's force against a surface. At low elevations, the pressure is greater because the molecules of air are compressed from the weight of the air above them. At higher elevations, the molecules are more dispersed because there is less pressure.