Pulmonary disease affects millions of people in the US.  It  refers to a number of disorders that prevent the lungs from working correctly and include conditions that affect the airways, the lung tissue, lung circulation, or a combination. Among the most common are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.

The Most Common Pulmonary Disorders

COPD

COPD

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is one of the most common lung diseases usually related to smoking. It is otherwise known by patients as “smoker’s cough” and/or “emphysema”.

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Asthma

Asthma

Asthma is very similar to COPD, since there is airway constriction and obstruction to airflow. But unlike COPD, asthma usually involves inflammation and constriction of mainly the small airways.

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Lung Cancer & Lung Nodules

Lung Cancer & Lung Nodules

Lung Nodules are small abnormalities seen on a chest x-ray and/or CAT scan of the chest. Usually, a nodule is less than one centimeter in size. They are rather common and occur most often in smokers.

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Other Pulmonary Disorders

Chronic Cough

A chronic cough will keep nagging at you until you take care of it.  It’s one of the ways the lungs let you know they have a problem.  Unlike other organs, the nerves for the lungs are only on the outside (in the pleura).  This means that anything that bothers the lungs doesn’t first trigger pain, so one of the best early warning systems that there is a problem is cough.  No one needs to suffer with a chronic persistent cough.

It most cases, the cause of a chronic cough can be determined and will improve or completely resolve with treatment.  Cough is a normal response to airway irritation.  The most common causes of cough include sinus congestion and post-nasal drip, reflux (also known as heartburn), and asthma.  Cough may also be a sign of cancer.  It is important to have your cough evaluated by a specialist if it has lasted for more than two weeks.

Man with Chronic Cough
Woman Suffering from Shortness of Breath

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath can occur at rest or with activity.  It is not normal to have increased shortness of breath as you age, or when walking up the stairs.  Seeing a specialist may help you sort out if your shortness of breath is due to heart disease, lung disease, weight gain or deconditioning.

It is important to know the correct cause of your breathing problem so that you can receive the appropriate treatment.  Some people may benefit from the temporary use of supplemental oxygen to allow them to rebuild muscle and improve their cardiovascular fitness.  Even if the source of your shortness of breath cannot be eliminated, your symptom control can improve to allow you a fuller quality of life.

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease of the lung, which can also involve the entire body.  Inflammation is usually a healthy response to injury and infection, but in this case, it has been magnified and exaggerated. Consider it a type of “arthritis” of the lung.  However, unlike arthritis, which is predictable, sarcoidosis is fairly unpredictable.  It can appear and disappear at will.  It can be completely benign and never require therapy, or it can be devastating and lead to pulmonary hypertension (severe high blood pressure in the lungs), fibrosis (scarring), and lung destruction requiring lung transplantation.

The long term management of sarcoidosis was previously done with prednisone (ie, steroids), however, newer agents can lead to improved outcomes with markedly less side effects.