Lung diseases affect these vital organs in various ways, preventing them from functioning as they should. Sometimes, these conditions prevent people from being able to breathe properly. Other times, they damage the lung tissue so that the lungs can no longer oxygenate the blood effectively.
Some lung diseases are short-lived and clear up after treatment, while others last a lifetime.
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways to become inflamed, narrowing the openings and making it harder for air to flow in and out of the lungs.
Asthma is relatively common, affecting about one in 13 people in the United States. Symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath often begin in childhood and are triggered by exercise, allergens, and cold air. There is no cure for asthma, but there are many ways to manage it, including avoiding triggers and using medication.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD affects more than 13 million Americans. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common forms. Chronic bronchitis is long-term inflammation of the bronchi, the two large tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This inflammation results in increased mucus production, making breathing even more difficult.
In emphysema, the small air sacs in the lungs or alveoli become narrow, collapsed, stretched, or destroyed, preventing the lungs from functioning properly. There is no cure for either form of COPD.
Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the lining of the bronchi. It affects about five percent of adults every year and is most common during flu season. Acute bronchitis can follow any viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection, and things like pollution, smoking, and a history of asthma exacerbate it.
Acute bronchitis eventually resolves on its own, and treatment focuses on managing symptoms.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease that affects the digestive and reproductive systems as well as the lungs. Symptoms usually begin in early childhood, and most people with CF live into their 30s or beyond.
CF causes cells to absorb too much sodium and water. In the lungs, this means that secretions that are thin in people without CF are very thick and lead to frequent respiratory infections, causing lung damage and eventually cell death. There is no cure for CF; treatment centers on preventing and treating complications and slowing the progression of the disease.
Pneumonia inflames the air sacs in the lungs which may then fill work pus or fluid. There are many types of pneumonia. The most common type is community-acquired pneumonia caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Pneumonia can affect anyone, but it is most dangerous in infants, children under 2, and adults over 65. Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia and the severity. Hospitalization may be necessary, and it can progress to the point where being on a ventilator is necessary.
Pulmonary edema is caused by excess fluid in the air sacs of the lungs. It often develops suddenly as a result of heart problems. Pulmonary edema is a medical emergency and requires immediate care, as it can lead to death if left untreated for too long.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough with frothy sputum, and heart palpitations. Breathing often worsens when lying down. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition, but most cases require supplemental oxygen.
Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. It occurs when cells in the lungs start to grow uncontrollably. There are two main forms: small cell and non-small cell. The former is more common, usually growing and spreading quickly, but it generally responds to available treatments. Non-small cell lung cancer grows slowly, but some forms are very aggressive.
Smoking is the number one risk factor for developing lung cancer. Smokers are between 15 and 30 times more likely to get the disease than those who do not smoke.
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) or pulmonary fibrosis is scarring and inflammation in the tissue surrounding the air sacs in the lungs, airways, and blood vessels. This scarring causes the lung tissue to stiffen, making breathing difficult.
Many things cause ILD, including autoimmune diseases, inhaling harmful substances, and genetics. The condition can also occur for no known reason. There is no cure for ILD. Once the lung tissue scars, nothing can reverse it. Treatment consists of oxygen therapy, medications, and, in severe cases, a lung transplant.
Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a rare lung condition that results from the arteries between the heart and lungs narrowing so blood cannot easily make it to the lungs. As a result, the pressure on the right side of the heart increases, causing it to work harder and increase in size. Many things can cause PH, including heart diseases, liver disease, clotting disorders, and genetics. There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension.
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that travels from another part of the body into the lungs, blocking blood flow. Symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart palpitations.
Treatment includes anticoagulants to prevent future clots and clot busters to break down the existing clot. In some cases, doctors recommend a vena cava filter in the large blood vessel that returns blood to the heart to prevent the clot from entering the heart.
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