What are the Different Types of Respiratory Disorders?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Respiratory disorders are diseases that affect the lungs, and consequently may interfere with breathing. Many of these conditions require lifelong maintenance, and some may tragically end in fatalities. Respiratory disorders are not to be taken lightly; according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) they are one of the top five leading causes of death in the United States, and a major cause of death worldwide.

One of the most common forms of respiratory disorders is asthma. This condition often begins in childhood, and may improve or worsen with age. Asthma is caused by the inflammation of the lungs due to allergens, extreme climates, physical activity, stress, and many other factors. The condition causes the airways to close, and results in sudden shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing.

Asthma is a chronic condition, but is usually treatable with a variety of medicines given in aerosol form. Depending on the severity of the condition, patients may take asthma medication daily to decrease the likelihood of attacks, or only if they feel an attack coming on. People with family histories of asthma, those who live in areas of heavy pollution, and obese people may be more likely to develop asthma.


Cystic fibrosis is a type of respiratory disorder that is caused by an inherited genetic abnormality. It tends to affect the mucus production system, allowing toxic bacteria to build up in the lungs and cause severe infections. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis as of 2009, though medical professionals are hopeful that future developments in gene therapy will allow this respiratory disorder to be treated or cured. Depending on the severity of complications, a person diagnosed with cystic fibrosis tends to have a somewhat shortened lifespan of between 35-50 years.

One major subset of respiratory disorders are occupation-related illnesses. Workers that have daily exposure to carcinogenic substances such as particulate matter from mining operations, smokestacks, and fires may have a higher risk of developing some respiratory disorders. Many of these illnesses result in the irreparable scarring of the lungs and cannot be cured. Asbestosis, pneumoconiosis, and silicosis are all acquired respiratory disorders that some experts consider to be often occupation-related.

One of the worst risk factors that can cause respiratory disorders comes from smoking. Smoking related illnesses range from the painful but usually curable chronic bronchitis to the often fatal conditions of emphysema and lung cancer. According to some estimates, nearly 90% of lung cancer deaths are directly related to smoking. In addition to causing potentially fatal diseases, smoking also increases risks of respiratory infections, pneumonia, and heart disease. For these reasons alone, almost every medical expert recommends quitting smoking, or better yet, never starting.


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