A lot of us take our lungs for granted at times. They keep us alive and well, and we don’t have to think about them for the most part. Respiratory function, or the capacity to breathe, is the main function of lungs. It is important to keep our lungs in a healthy condition so they can carry out this function well. Our body has a natural defensive system designed to remove dirt and germs from the lungs. In addition, there are some important steps you can take to decrease your risk of lung disease.
Lung disease is a term used to describe a variety of diseases or conditions that affect the lungs’ capacity to function normally. Lung diseases include infections, including bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), mesothelioma and lung cancer. Some of these conditions can be due to environmental factors.
Lung disease can be categorised into the following:
- Diseases affecting the airways: The flow of oxygen and other gases in and out of the lungs is affected by many disorders. The airways are usually narrowed or blocked because of them. Chronic obstructive disease and asthma are examples of these diseases.
- Diseases affecting lung tissue: The structure of the lung tissue is affected in these disorders. There is a decrease in the transfer of oxygen into the blood from the lungs due to inflammation and scarring.
- Diseases affecting lung expansion: Scarring of the lung and some deformities in the chest limit the expansion of the lung (restrictive lung diseases) resulting in an inadequate exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
- Diseases affecting circulation of the lungs: These are diseases that affect the lungs’ blood vessels. Clotting of the blood, scarring and inflammation of the blood vessels can cause lung problems. They disturb the lungs’ capacity to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
Some of the lung diseases are:
- Asthma: It is a long-term condition of the bronchial tubes, through which air moves into and out of the lungs. When you have asthma, your airways become swollen and irritated, making them extremely sensitive.
- COPD: Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two disorders that make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They frequently occur in tandem. Both make it difficult to breathe and usually get worse over time. In chronic bronchitis, the airways get irritated and produce a large amount of mucus resulting in a lot of coughing. In emphysema, the lung tissue is weakened, and the walls of the air sacs break down. Shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing occur as a result of less oxygen entering the bloodstream.
- Lung cancer: In lung cancer, malignant (abnormal) lung cells multiply uncontrollably. These cells have the potential to infiltrate surrounding tissues, spread to other parts of the body, or both. Cancer of the lungs can be categorised into small cell and non-small cell cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is the common type, and it spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer.
- Chronic cough: Defined as a cough that has lasted for eight weeks or longer.
- Shortness of breath: It is not normal to have shortness of breath that lasts more than a few minutes after exercising or that occurs with little or no effort.
- Chronic mucus production: The airways create mucus, also known as sputum or phlegm, as a defense against infections or irritants.
- Wheezing: Noisy breathing or wheezing indicates that something is clogging or narrowing your airways.
- Coughing up blood: Coughing up blood could indicate a problem with your lungs or upper respiratory system.
- Chest pain that worsens while breathing.
Risk factors for lung diseases
- Tobacco smoke exposure: Long-term cigarette smoking as well as passive exposure is the most critical risk factor for lung disease.
- Asthma: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway disease. People with asthma are at a greater risk for lung disease, especially if they are also exposed to tobacco smoke.
- Dust and chemical exposure in the workplace or environment: Chemical fumes, vapours, pollutants and dust in the workplace can irritate and inflame lungs.
- Fumes from burning fuel: People in impoverished countries exposed to fumes from cooking fuel and heating in poorly ventilated homes are more likely to acquire lung disease.
- Genetics: Some smokers are at greater risk than others due to genetic factors.
- Infections of the lungs: COPD patients are more susceptible to colds, flu, and pneumonia. Any respiratory infection can make breathing more difficult and lead to lung tissue damage.
- People with lung diseases can also suffer from secondary heart disorders.
- COPD can increase your risk of heart disease, including heart attack.
- Lung Cancer: COPD patients are more likely to develop lung cancer.
- High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs: High blood pressure in the arteries that provide blood to your lungs may be a symptom of COPD (pulmonary hypertension).
Maintaining good lung health is better than attempting to restore diseased lungs. The following can be adapted to maintain healthy lungs:
- Avoid smoking, secondhand smoke and other irritants.
- Increase the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods.
- Vaccinations such as the flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine help in the prevention of lung infections.
- Adequate physical exercise.
- Improve ventilation within your home.
- Using indoor air filters can help decrease contaminants such as mould and dust.
People who have chronic lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, are more likely to become very ill from diseases that certain vaccinations can prevent. Vaccinations are a critical part of healthcare and offer the best protection against diseases. The majority of vaccine side effects are minor and resolve on their own. Soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site are examples.
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