The lungs are essential to the human body. They assist in supplying the oxygen needed for life and the proper functioning of every cell in the body. According to experts, a healthy person breathes about 25,000 times a day. When the lungs sustain damage or illness, they cannot provide the body with an adequate amount of oxygen.
There are several types of diseases that can affect the lungs. These can be caused by infections, inherited conditions, or cancer.
Primary symptoms of lung disease include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, fast or slow breathing, and general body weakness or lethargy.
Depending on the type or severity of the lung disease, it can be treated with antibiotics, antihistamines, expectorants, bronchodilators, or a lung transplant for severe cases like emphysema or cancer.
When the body lacks oxygen, it becomes extremely weak. This can also lead to the malfunction of other body parts. Therefore, it is crucial to address any lung disease promptly before it worsens.
History of Lung Diseases
From the time of Hippocrates, various conditions related to lung diseases and ailments have already been described.
However, the treatment of lung diseases as a distinct field of medicine only emerged in the 1950s. William Welch and William Osler founded the American Thoracic Society and the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis during those years. Because of this, there was an accelerated advancement in research on various lung conditions and the entire respiratory system.
Some early signs of lung disease are not easily noticeable. Although there are many symptoms of lung disease because of numerous possible conditions, the most common indication of this disease is lethargy. Here are some other common symptoms of lung diseases:
Chronic cough. A cough that lasts for a month is a sign of a lung problem.
Shortness of breath. Having trouble breathing or experiencing shortness of breath easily may also be an indication of lung disease.
Recurring presence of phlegm in the lungs. The constant presence of phlegm in the lungs could be a sign of an infection, which may lead to various diseases.
Wheezing. A wheezing sound that accompanies breathing indicates a possible obstruction in the lungs or narrowing of the air passages.
Coughing with blood. When a person coughs up blood, it might be coming from the lungs and can be a sign of lung damage or severe infection.
Chronic chest pain. Unexplained chest pain that lasts for several months could be an indication of a lung condition.
Not all lung diseases have a known cause. However, for the more common types of diseases that affect this part of the body, here are some causes:
Smoke. Smoke, whether from cigarettes or vehicles, is a leading cause of lung diseases. Even secondhand smoke can cause illnesses.
Radon. This is a colorless gas found in building materials. It can also be present in household water. This element can cause lung cancer.
Asbestos. Asbestos is a fibrous material used to insulate buildings against fire and heat. Its tiny fibers, when inhaled, cause lung cancer.
Air pollution. Air pollution from vehicle emissions can cause asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and other related conditions.
Microbes. There are types of microbes, like bacteria, viruses, or fungi, that can cause various infections weakening the human lungs.
What are the factors that increase the risk of lung diseases?
Risk factors for lung diseases
Certain individuals have a higher risk of developing various lung diseases due to the following factors:
Smoking. Smoking is the primary cause of most lung diseases. A cigarette contains over 4,000 components, most of which are toxic and carcinogenic.
Secondhand smoke. Also called passive smoking, it involves inhaling smoke from someone who smokes. It also leads to various diseases that can affect the lungs.
Factors from early human life. There are elements in the early stages of human life that can eventually result in lung diseases. These include being overweight as a child, not being breastfed, a mother using certain drugs during pregnancy, complications during childbirth, and the type of environment one grew up in.
Inherited conditions. There are lung diseases or other genetic conditions that can be passed down from parents to children.
Indoor air quality. The type of air inside buildings, like homes, offices, schools, and even vehicles, can impact lung health, especially with prolonged exposure.
Outdoor air quality. Polluted outdoor air, caused by vehicle emissions and other industrial chemicals, leads to various known lung diseases.
Type of diet. Recent studies have linked certain types of food to the overall condition of the lungs.
Treatment and Prevention
The medical specialist who examines and treats lung diseases is called a pulmonologist. Pulmonologists can assess the condition of the lungs and provide advice on the treatments that can be used for the type of disease affecting the patient.
Some of the types of treatments that can be applied to known lung diseases include:
Chest tube insertion. This procedure is used to prevent lung collapse when the pleural space is filled with blood or air.
Chest tube thoracostomy. This is done to remove fluids that have accumulated inside the lungs, as seen in those with pneumonia or cancer.
Pulmonary lobectomy. This is done when a part, or lobe, of the lung is affected by severe disease.
Inhaled or oral medications for asthma. Some examples of these medications are salbutamol sprays and syrups. They provide relief by relaxing the airways in the lungs.
Oxygen therapy. When the lungs are deficient in oxygen, the patient will require oxygen therapy. It helps supplement the oxygen needed for the proper functioning of every part of the body.
Pulmonary rehabilitation. This procedure is carried out for those with recurring lung problems. This method does not replace the current treatments applied to the patient. Instead, it is used as an additional treatment.
Use of a ventilator. A ventilator is a type of machine that assists the breathing of someone with severely damaged lungs. It helps ensure that various parts of the body receive an adequate amount of oxygen and helps in the removal of carbon dioxide from the body.
Lung transplant. This treatment method is rarely used. It’s only required in cases of cancer or if a person’s lungs have completely ceased to function.
Various types of medication. Antibiotics help kill bacteria that cause lung diseases. On the other hand, expectorants assist in removing phlegm from the lungs that block air passages. Bronchodilators help to widen the airways, especially in cases of people with asthma.
So, how does one prevent lung diseases?
Prevention of Lung Diseases
Lung diseases can be prevented, although some types cannot be avoided or cured.
Here are some effective methods to prevent common lung diseases:
Avoid smoking. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing lung diseases—especially cancers and COPD. This is because cigarette smoke releases toxic and carcinogenic substances. For non-smokers, it’s also beneficial to avoid areas where people are smoking. For smokers, it is strongly advised to quit entirely before it’s too late.
Avoid secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is the cigarette smoke that comes from another smoker. This also contains toxic and cancer-causing substances. Even thirdhand smoke, the residual substances from cigarette smoke that stick to walls, curtains, or seats, can also cause lung diseases.
Practice proper handwashing. Cultivate the habit of regular and proper handwashing. This practice helps prevent the spread of microbes that can cause lung diseases.
Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. This habit helps prevent the spread of microbes that might cause lung diseases in others.
Keep the home clean. Ensure the interior of the home is clean and dust-free. Avoid using air fresheners due to their potentially harmful ingredients for the lungs. If possible, install an exhaust fan in the kitchen to keep the area comfortable when cooking.
Make it a habit to wear a face mask. When leaving the house, if possible, wear a face mask. This helps reduce the amount of inhaled dirt, dust, and smoke when outdoors. It’s especially effective when passing through traffic-heavy streets. Face masks are also crucial if one’s job involves exposure to toxic substances.
Consult a doctor promptly. If you feel any discomfort in the chest, such as shortness of breath or weakness, see a doctor immediately. It’s also essential to follow their advice, especially regarding the types of medications to take to treat the existing condition.
Exercise regularly. Exercising for 30 minutes a day helps strengthen the lungs. It also aids in the proper oxygen flow throughout the body, contributing to its overall health.
Be aware of the air quality around you. When visiting any place, it helps to know its air quality. This is especially important for people with asthma or COPD to take necessary steps to reduce the risk of a flare-up or acquiring lung diseases.
Get vaccinated. Make it a habit to get vaccinated against pneumonia annually. This is especially helpful for those with weakened immune systems, like those aged 65 and above.
Types of Diseases
Here’s a list of various diseases that can affect the lungs:
Asbestosis. This disease results from inhaling asbestos fibers. It’s associated with severe fibrosis and a high risk of developing mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura).
Bronchiectasis. This is a type of long-term lung disease where the airways become excessively dilated. It leads to the accumulation of mucus, and it also makes the lungs more susceptible to various infections.
Bronchitis. This disease is an inflammation of the airways or bronchial tubes. It results in coughing with mucus. There are two types of this disease: acute and chronic bronchitis.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This disease involves blockages in the lungs causing long-term breathing problems and air flow issues. It typically worsens over time.
Croup. This disease affects children. It primarily affects the trachea in the front part of the neck, the bronchi, and the larynx.
Emphysema. This is a type of COPD that causes lung inflammation. It results in shortness of breath, excessive mucus, and a loss of appetite.
Cystic fibrosis. This is a genetic condition mainly affecting the lungs. This disease causes chronic lung infections, resulting in difficulty in breathing and frequent cough with phlegm.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. This is a rare, but potentially fatal infection. It is contracted from inhaling air that is contaminated with the urine, saliva, or feces of infected rodents.
Asthma. Asthma causes the narrowing and inflammation of the lung’s airways. It results in mucus production in the lungs, which further complicates breathing and causes coughing, shortness of breath, and a wheezing sound when breathing.
Occupational Asthma. This type of asthma is caused by inhaling substances or particles in the workplace environment of the affected person.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This disease involves the formation of scars, or fibrosis, in the lungs for unknown reasons. Over time, the scarring worsens, causing difficulty in breathing and eventually leading to a lack of oxygen in the body.
Influenza. Also known as the flu, this is a contagious respiratory system infection affecting the nose, throat, and lungs. It can be fatal but can also be prevented through vaccination.
Lung cancer. Lung cancer results from the growth of abnormal cells. These cells can form tumors that hinder the proper functioning of the lungs. This disease is deadly, especially if not detected and treated early.
Common cold. This disease results from a virus affecting the upper part of the lungs and throat. It can also affect the sinuses and cause nasal congestion. A cold’s symptoms may appear two days after initial exposure to the virus.
Recurring cough (chronic cough). This condition lasts for about four to eight weeks. It is usually a result of asthma, allergens, bronchitis, or even acid reflux.
Pandemic flu. This refers to the global spread of a new influenza A virus.
Pertussis. This condition is also known as whooping cough. It is a contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The disease is known for the severe coughing it causes in patients.
Pleurisy. This is the inflammation of the pleura, the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes severe chest pain, especially when taking deep breaths.
Pulmonary embolism. This is the sudden blockage of major blood vessels in the lungs due to a blood clot. While it might not always be fatal, it can damage the lungs. However, if the blockage in the lungs is not removed, it can cause death.
Pulmonary hypertension. This is a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs. It leads to blockages in the blood vessels of this body part.
Pneumonia. This disease is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It causes inflammation of various parts of the lungs accompanied by the accumulation of fluids or pus. Patients with pneumonia experience significant difficulty in breathing.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This is a type of lung infection that affects the entire respiratory tract, commonly in children. However, it can also affect adults. It is caused by a specific type of virus.
Sarcoidosis. This disease can affect any part of the body. However, it commonly affects the lungs and lymph nodes. In this condition, granulomas, or abnormal clusters, form and affect the normal functioning of body organs.
Sleep apnea. This is a severe sleep condition where breathing stops and starts. If a person frequently snores loudly and wakes up suddenly from sleep feeling tired, they might have this condition.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This condition is the unexplained sudden death of a child under one year of age. It usually occurs while the child is sleeping.
Tuberculosis. This disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mainly affects the lungs and is highly contagious.