Lung disease

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at October 23, 2016
StartDiseasesLung disease

There are several types of lung disease that affect the body’s respiratory system, making it difficult for someone to breathe normally while resting or walking. Lung disease might be a temporary condition caused by an infection from bacteria or viruses, or it can be a long-term illness that lasts a lifetime. Occasionally, lung disease is the result of a genetic disorder, trauma injury or abnormal growth. 


Definition & Facts

Lung disease primarily affects adults, but it also occurs in children and teenagers. Older individuals are more likely to develop a lung disorder. There are several types of lung disease, including:

Tens of millions of Americans have one or more types of lung disease. 

Symptoms & Complaints

Patients with lung disease experience chronic dry coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. When a patient is first diagnosed, the condition is mild and leads to symptoms after physical exertion. However, after lung disease progresses, there are irreversible scars on the lungs that make it difficult for a patient to breathe while reclining or sitting.

Lung disease can affect only one portion of the respiratory system such as the trachea, bronchi or the alveoli. Alternatively, a lung disorder can damage the entire organ, changing an individual’s daily lifestyle. It can also lead to problems with the blood vessels of the lungs, the thoracic wall, or the pleura.

A patient with a lung disorder may produce sputum or blood from the lungs (coughing blood), and in some cases, this fluid is contagious. Problems with breathing properly can lead to a lack of oxygen in the body, causing a patient’s skin to have a blue tinge (cyanosis), or the patient may begin to have intense muscle cramping. The inability to breathe normally can cause a patient to feel lightheaded or faint, making it impossible for a patient to live independently.


Certain types of lung disease called occupational lung disease are caused by long-term exposure to hazardous chemicals, including coal dust or asbestos. Construction workers, coal miners, factory employees and tobacco users are at high-risk of developing some types of lung disorder.

Alternatively, lung disorders are also part of the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or an arthritic condition. An individual with a viral infection or bacterial infection of the lungs might have difficulty breathing due to inflammation and excess mucus. These infections can include pneumonia or bronchitis that is often a side effect of the common cold or influenza.

Severe allergic reactions to chemicals can lead to the onset of lung disease. If an individual has asthma, then numerous breathing attacks can damage the lungs, leading to lung disease. The natural aging process can affect the lungs in addition to obesity and lack of exercise. Individuals with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, or muscular dystrophy can develop lung disease because the lung’s muscles and the chest wall are damaged. 

Diagnosis & Tests

If a physician suspects that a patient has lung disease, then breathing tests are performed. Typically, a patient with a lung disorder has lost 30 percent or more of the lung’s normal breathing capacity. In addition to breathing tests with a spirometry device, patients will require X-rays to determine if there are growths in or around the lungs.

A physician will observe a patient to see if there is a productive cough with mucus, wheezing, high grade fever or skin discoloration. Patients will complete a lifestyle chart that helps a physician understand when the breathing difficulties occur, including while sleeping or during strenuous activity. 

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment for a lung disorder varies depending on the type of condition. An individual with lung cancer may require surgery to remove tumors or a diseased portion of a lung. In addition, the patient will require chemotherapy, radiation and breathing treatments.

Alternatively, an individual with chronic asthma can use medications and breathing treatments at home when a mild attack occurs. Patients who have a lung disorder caused by contaminants such as cigarette smoke or air pollution must stop smoking or use air purification systems to protect the lungs from additional damage.

When a patient has an infection of the lungs, a physician can prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria or antiviral drug to eliminate viruses. Patients with severe lung damage from a lung disorder will have oxygen tanks available to avoid dangerous complications.

Many lung disorders are not curable, but a physician can plan a course of treatment to manage the condition to improve a patient’s daily living. Patients with life-threatening lung damage that is not treatable may qualify for a lung transplant.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are important ways for individuals to avoid developing lung disease to prevent permanent damage. One of the most important ways to avoid a lung disorder is by not smoking cigarettes. If someone smokes, then it is vital to stop this habit immediately. In addition, experts recommend that everyone should avoid secondhand smoke because it can lead to lung damage.

While working with chemicals at home or in a factory, an individual should wear a protective breathing mask to avoid exposure to carcinogens. Homeowners should have a home tested for radon gas, and if the test is positive, then it is essential to install specialized equipment to remove the contamination.

Exercising frequently can improve the condition of the lungs while also preventing obesity. Consuming a healthy diet of lean meat, fresh produce and whole-grain foods can improve an individual’s immunity to prevent an infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.