Hundreds of millions of people are afflicted with respiratory illnesses worldwide, with approximately 400-million of those dying each year. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, lung, and pleural cancers, and respiratory infections are some of the major contributors.
Respiratory diseases are primarily categorized into two groups: infectious diseases and non-infectious diseases. Infectious diseases are typically of shorter durations but their onset is sudden. While the noninfectious diseases have a longer duration with insidious onset.
Infectious diseases may be due to viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections. These usually attack people who have a weakened immune system.
Noninfectious diseases are either obstructive or restrictive lung diseases. The obstructive diseases cause a narrowing or a blockage in the airway tracts, impeding the airflow in and out of the lungs which then causes the carbon dioxide levels to increase. Common examples include asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, and bronchiectasis.
On the contrary, restrictive lung disease is due to decreased elastic recoil of the lungs which makes it difficult for them to hold air. Some examples are lung fibrosis, pneumoconiosis, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
Some of these are in part due to genetic defects and environmental factors while others are due to toxic exposure at workplace. If proper safety precautions aren’t put in place by the employer for workers’ safety, then the employer deserves to be taken to court for putting the workers’ lives at risk.
For example, mesothelioma, a lethal pleural cancer is caused by asbestos—a fibrous silicate mineral—the use of which has been restricted in light of the deadly consequences the exposure to asbestos causes. In case of asbestos exposure, you can consult with a mesothelioma lawyer and file a claim against the employer who makes you work in conditions with high risk of asbestos exposure without any safety equipment. Respiratory diseases like pleural mesothelioma are incurable, but they are certainly preventable, so we should be making sure that we are taking precautions.
Common respiratory problems
Although there are numerous respiratory diseases that affect breathing, the most common ones are as follows:
Many viruses and bacteria are responsible for causing lung infections which affect minors and the elderly the most. Lung infections spread because of tiny droplets emitted through coughing, sneezing, or even talking. Covid pneumonia is an example of a lung infection that is still taking lives irrespective of age groups. Some of these may be treated with home remedies while others require the use of antibiotics.
Asthma is an airway hypersensitivity disorder in which exposure to triggers like dust, perfumes, animal dander, toxic inhalants irritate the airway due to which extra mucus is produced by lungs, leading the airways to tighten and constrict. Typically, asthma is diagnosed early in childhood and is a genetically-transferred disease. Short-acting inhalers are used when the asthma flares up temporarily, while, for more long-term treatment options, long-acting inhalers and steroid inhalers are used.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
It is further classified into chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Emphysema is a disorder of alveolar elasticity. Alveoli are multiple, small air chambers in the lungs through which gaseous exchange takes place; they’re responsible for absorbing oxygen into the blood and releasing waste products out of the blood and the body through the exhaled air. Due to a lack of alveolar elasticity, blood oxygen levels drop, and harmful toxins build up.
Chronic bronchitis is an irritation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes in which excess mucus clogs the lumen of the airway tracts causing difficulty in breathing.
It is a bacterial infection affecting mainly the lungs, but it can also affect the spine, bowels, meninges, and bones. Lungs are the most common site for TB, yet, in many healthy individuals, TB exists in the dormant state and shows no symptoms at all. On the other hand, individuals with a weakened immune system show signs of infection. A prescription medicine course of 6 to 9-months is advised for patients when diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Chronic asbestos exposure in workers results in either the inhalation or ingestion of the asbestos fibers or fine particles. It takes a long time for the symptoms to show, sometimes even up to 20-years. The outer lining of the lungs, called the pleura, is the most common site for mesothelioma. Construction workers, people who work at shipyards and their immediate families are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Prognosis depends on the disease’s stage and severity. Affected individuals have the right to claim compensation from organizations that hide the details of illegal asbestos exposure or who fail to protect their workers by not providing safety equipment.
Lung cancer is the second most prevalent cancer worldwide, and the most common cause of cancer deaths. Smoking, whether active or passive, is the most important preventable risk factor for it. It mainly has two types: small cell cancer, the more aggressive type; non-small cell cancer, the more common type.
Other risk factors include a family history of lung cancer, radon exposure, radiation to the chest, and certain chemical exposure. Treatment is stage-dependent and the overall prognosis is undesirable.
Most lung diseases, more or less, share the same set of symptoms and signs with a few minor differences. Some symptoms may last a few days only while others may linger for a month or even more. If you are experiencing symptoms, such as a prolonged cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath, it is suggested that you visit a pulmonologist for a thorough examination and assessment. An early diagnosis and treatment of some of these diseases have promising outcomes.