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
Other Pulmonary Disorders
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.
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 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.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where there is increased scarring of the lung tissue. Scar tissue may be the body’s way to “cut its losses” when a healthy repair cannot be accomplished. However, this is an excessive and often progressive continuation of that process. Instead of cutting losses, this actually leads to the destruction of lung with decreased lung function and increased shortness of breath.
In some people, the cause of the lung injury and resultant inflammation, immunological changes, and scarring can be found. In others it cannot. In either case, new medications and lung transplantation offer hope to these patients for an improved quality of life and longer survival.
Pregnancy and Lung Disease
Pregnancy can lead to increased shortness of breath in women even without prior lung disease. In women with lung disease, pregnancy can lead to an increase in symptoms and complications for both mother and baby. There are, however, many medications which can be safely used in pregnancy both to relieve symptoms and improve oxygenation, which is good for both mother and baby.
Early diagnosis and treatment, with collaboration between your lung specialist and obstetrician, can lead to healthier and happier pregnancies.