What is Chronic Respiratory Disease?

D. Jeffress

Chronic respiratory diseases are persistent conditions that cause inflammation and irritation of the lungs, airways, and sinuses. There are several types of chronic respiratory disease, though the most common conditions are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and a combination of the two. A person who experiences frequent colds or persistent episodes of coughing, wheezing, and chest pain should visit his or her doctor to screen for a chronic respiratory disease. Treatment measures vary depending on the underlying causes, but most patients are given medications to reduce inflammation and open airways.

Smoking cigarettes is a leading cause of chronic respiratory disease.
Smoking cigarettes is a leading cause of chronic respiratory disease.

A chronic respiratory disease can arise because of a congenital lung problem, a severe nasal allergy, or an underlying autoimmune disorder. Environmental factors can also play a significant role in the development of respiratory problems. Smoking cigarettes and inhaling secondhand smoke are leading causes of chronic respiratory disease in adults. An individual who is frequently exposed to chemicals, gases, and pollution at industrial plants may also develop lung problems.

Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of respiratory illnesses in children.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of respiratory illnesses in children.

Asthma, COPD, and other forms of chronic respiratory disease are very damaging to the lungs and airways; the lining of the lungs and throat are constantly inflamed, which leads to excessive mucus production, swelling, and eventual tissue scarring. Two types of COPD called emphysema and bronchitis, which are usually brought on by smoking, severely limit lung capacity as air sacs become permanently damaged. When the airways become restricted, individuals are prone to coughing fits, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and congestion. Additionally, mucus buildup in the sinuses and throat increases the risk of catching colds.

The human respiratory system.
The human respiratory system.

It is essential for a person to seek a medical evaluation if he or she has symptoms of a chronic respiratory disease. A physician can diagnose respiratory problems by listening to the patient's chest with a stethoscope and taking an x-ray. It is important for the patient to explain his or her symptoms and medical history to ensure an accurate diagnosis. A patient may also be instructed to walk on a treadmill or blow into a device called a peak flow meter to measure lung capacity.

A bag valve mask may be used to help an individual who can no longer sufficiently breathe on his own.
A bag valve mask may be used to help an individual who can no longer sufficiently breathe on his own.

Once a diagnosis has been made, the doctor can consider different treatment options. Patients are generally instructed to avoid conditions that worsen their symptoms, such as rigorous exercise and smoking. Individuals who frequently get sick may be prescribed antiviral and antibiotic drugs. Anti-inflammatory oral medications can help ease swelling. Specialized inhalers called bronchodilators are given to patients to use in the case of a bad coughing fit or asthma attack to immediately open the airways.

Chronic bad coughing may be a sign of chronic respiratory disease.
Chronic bad coughing may be a sign of chronic respiratory disease.
A physician may listen to a patient's lungs with a stethoscope to diagnose respiratory problems.
A physician may listen to a patient's lungs with a stethoscope to diagnose respiratory problems.
The respiratory and abdominal organs.
The respiratory and abdominal organs.

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