Lung diseases are a common health problem across the globe. Millions of people suffer from lung disorders, out of which many succumb to severe conditions. These diseases hinder the performance of the lungs, commonly resulting in breathing difficulty.
Your lungs are one of the most vital and complex organs in the body, expanding and contracting several times every day to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Breathing troubles caused by a lung disorder can prevent your body from obtaining enough oxygen and functioning correctly.
When you hear someone saying lung disease, you may think of asthma or lung cancer. But there are many different lung diseases. Infections, smoking, and sometimes genetics are the reason behind them. These lung diseases may cause a problem in the interstitium, airways, alveoli, chest wall, or blood vessels. Here are some common lung diseases, their causes, and symptoms that may require medical attention.
Pleural lung diseases
The pleura is the thin lining of tissue surrounding the lungs and lines the internal wall of the chest. Its function is to cushion and protect the lungs and reduce friction between them. Diseases that affect the pleura of the lungs include:
- Pleural effusion. The condition, sometimes known as “water on the lungs,” is the accumulation of excessive fluid in the pleural space. The most common causes are pneumonia, cancer, open-heart surgery, and kidney disease. Symptoms include chest pain, dry cough, orthopnea, and shortness of breath. Large pleural effusions may have to be drained out.
- Mesothelioma. This is a kind of cancer caused by asbestos, a natural silicate mineral. When people breathe in microfibrils of this toxic mineral, they develop pleural mesothelioma in the lungs. Mesothelioma may not develop immediately but many years after you inhale or swallow asbestos. Symptoms may include chest pain, trouble swallowing, coughing, pain in the lower back, and swelling of arms and face. The lifespan of affected people is more or less twelve months after diagnosis.
- Pneumothorax. Air or gas may build up in the pleural space, resulting in a collapsed lung. You may experience fatigue, dry cough, rapid breathing, fast heartbeat, bluish skin due to lack of oxygen, and sharp chest pain. It can be caused by any blunt chest injury, mechanical ventilation, or ruptured air blisters.
Airway lung diseases
This type of lung disease affects your lung airways (bronchioles), which bring gases like oxygen into the lungs. Airway lung disorders usually cause obstruction or narrowing of the airways. These diseases include:
- Asthma. It is a chronic condition that causes significant discomfort. Asthma makes your airways narrow or inflamed, with secretions extra sticky inside the bronchial tubes, causing difficulty breathing. In severe cases, affected individuals can also experience trouble while talking. The cause of asthma may be infections such as flu or sinusitis and allergens like dust mites and pollens. Most common symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and tightness or pain in your chest.
- Cystic fibrosis. It is an inherited disorder affecting mucus-producing cells. These fluids are thin and slippery. But cystic fibrosis causes these fluids to become thick and sticky, eventually blocking passageways, including the lungs and pancreas. Persistent cough, shortness of breath, frequent lung infections, a higher amount of salts in sweat, and wheezing are various symptoms you might experience.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It causes blocked airflow leading to difficulty breathing. The air sacs become less effective in exchanging gases. Smoking, dust, chemical exposure, genetics, and asthma are the prime causes. The symptoms may include chest tightness, chronic cough, swelling in feet or ankles, lack of energy, and breathing difficulty during physical activity.
- Acute bronchitis. This viral infection causes inflammation and swelling in the bronchial tubes, making it difficult for you to breathe. Viral or bacterial infections and chemical agents can play a role in causing acute bronchitis. The symptoms may include mild headaches, body aches, sore throat, fatigue, and coughing.
- Chronic bronchitis. People with chronic bronchitis suffer from long-term cough with mucus, wheezing, and chest discomfort. Cigarette smoking is the prime cause of it. However, air pollution can also contribute to this condition.
Interstitial lung diseases
A thin lining in and around the alveoli wall is called the interstitium of a lung. Small blood vessels in the interstitium help transfer gases between your alveoli and the blood. Various lung diseases come under Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD).
- Sarcoidosis. It’s an inflammatory disorder affecting multiple organs, including lymph glands and lungs. Abnormal masses known as granulomas form in body organs altering their structure and function. It may be a kind of autoimmune disorder, yet the exact cause of this disease is unknown.
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). This is a lung disorder of unknown cause that usually occurs in older people. IPF causes lung scarring, eventually resulting in decreased oxygen intake, and it may worsen with time.
How can you protect your lungs and stay safe?
Our body consists of a natural defense system to protect our lungs. However, it would be best to consider a few things to minimize the risk of lung disorders. Here are some tips for healthy lungs.
- Do not smoke, or if you do, stop smoking.
- Try to minimise your exposure to indoor pollution, whether you are at work or home.
- Visit your doctor to get a regular checkup.
- Eat healthy food.
- Reduce your exposure to outdoor pollutants.
- Exercise daily. Physical activity can help boost your lung health and oxygen flow throughout the body.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid going to crowds during flu season. If you fall sick, keep your distance to protect the people around you.
- Ask your doctor if pneumonia and influenza vaccine is suitable for you, and get vaccinated annually. In the current times, we encourage you to get vaccinated against Covid to prevent yourself from severe respiratory conditions.
- Check your surroundings for radon gas.
- Consult your healthcare provider for screening options if you think you are at risk for cancer.
A range of lung diseases can limit lung function. Lung disorders can occur when there is a problem in any part of the respiratory system. Most lung diseases are caused by exposure to harmful pollutants and genetics, while other causes include injuries and lifestyle choices. From asthma to malignant pleural mesothelioma, common symptoms of lung diseases include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, coughing, and wheezing. Take simple preventive measures to avoid getting sick.
Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.