What are the Different Respiratory System Disorders?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 February 2020
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Respiratory system disorders refer to medical conditions that affect respiration or breathing. Respiratory system disorders may be chronic or acute. Asbestos disease is a serious respiratory condition that typically develops after prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers. A common respiratory system disorder is bronchitis. This respiratory condition refers to the inflammation of the main breathing or air passages of the lungs. Chronic bronchitis refers to multiple episodes of bronchitis with shortness of breath and coughing up mucus. Other respiratory disorders include those associated with smoking, adult respiratory distress syndrome, and asthma.

Typically, most respiratory system disorders display similar symptoms. Common symptoms of breathing disorders include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing while lying down, and excessive mucus production. In addition, many patients may experience higher levels of anxiety because of the inability to enjoy a deep breath. Often, coughing and wheezing accompany respiratory system disorders as well.

Sometimes respiratory system disorders may be brought on by smoking. Pulmonary conditions related to smoking include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Many times these conditions can improve with smoking cessation unless the damage is too extensive. Although tremendous damage to the respiratory system may occur with smoking, quitting smoking almost always improves lung function. Such chronic respiratory system disorders as these sometimes warrant oxygen therapy.


One of the more severe respiratory system disorders is adult respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. This syndrome is characterized by rapid, labored breathing, shortness of breath, and cyanotic or blue lips. Frequently, anxiety and fidgeting are present because the patient becomes nervous due to inability to properly breath. If left untreated, ARDS may cause multiple organ failure and shock.

A common respiratory system disorder that usually begins in childhood is asthma. This condition causes difficulty breathing and wheezing. The asthmatic patient typically receives treatment via an oral inhaler. These inhalers frequently contain steroids that decrease the inflammatory process. In addition to inhalers, treatments using inhaled steam and medications often make expectorating viscous mucous easier. Many times, asthma is triggered by allergies. In these cases, the physician often recommends regular allergy shots.

Although respiratory system disorders generally differ in their causes, treatment is often similar; the patient will receive an antibiotic. Frequently, when respiratory system disorders present themselves, the individual is often short of breath and unable to cough up, or expectorate offending mucus in the lungs. When mucus pools in the lungs, it becomes a breeding ground for infection. By eliminating infection, the patient often becomes stronger, and more capable of recuperating from his illness.


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