Research indicates that the number of lung disease diagnoses is increasing every year. Women and children represent a disproportionate number of cases. In 2017, the American Lung Association compiled data that indicated more than 35,000,000 people in the country have some type of lung disease. In 2010, lung disease was noted as the third highest cause of death. At a systemic level, lung disease is believed to cost the healthcare system more than $300 billion per year. The trend is attributed to higher rates of smoking and diminishing air quality. Morbidity rates are also increasing, such as the number of deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Researchers are also noting more cases of lung disease among children, with asthma being the leading condition. Recognizing the early signs of the most common lung diseases, and ways to protect yourself whenever possible, improves the health and well-being of you and your family.
More than 70% of all patients diagnosed with lung disease have asthma, and the disease affects 10% of the children in the country. Asthma is a reversible condition that develops in the airways. Symptoms may trigger an “asthma attack.” During the attack, the individual cannot breathe. Medications for asthma aim to keep the airways open and minimize attacks. Some known triggers for asthma attacks are irritants in the air, as well as allergens and bacteria that cause infections. Symptoms of asthma include tightness in the chest, a whistling or squeak when trying to inhale, coughing at night or when exercising and feeling short of breath.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an acquired condition that typically develops in a person who smokes, but it is also caused by irritants in the air. COPD is a larger category of lung diseases that cause blockages in the airflow and related breathing problems and more than 11 million people have a form of COPD. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are types of COPD. Chronic bronchitis develops as a long-term inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lead from the trachea, or windpipe, to the lungs. The condition causes a persistent cough that produces mucus. Emphysema describes changes in the air sacs inside the lungs. In healthy lungs, these sacs are flexible to accommodate air. In emphysema, these air sacs are rigid and cannot take in and release air. A person with emphysema may develop a chronic dry cough, difficulty exhaling and getting short of breath easily.
More than 225,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year and most cases involve people who have a history of smoking. Most of the cases occur among senior citizens, but lung cancer can affect people of all ages. Lung cancer accounts for more deaths each year than any other type of cancer. Symptoms of lung cancer may include recurring lung conditions, raspy voice, weight loss, short of breath and pain when coughing or breathing deeply. Some people with lung cancer also report coughing up discolored or bloody phlegm. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are treatment options for lung cancer.
Cystic fibrosis is a condition in which a person experiences recurring lung infections, and it is believed to be a congenital condition. The condition affects approximately 30,000 people in the country, and the majority of people are diagnosed as children. Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include episodes of sinusitis or pneumonia, wheezing, coughing, unexplained weight loss, skin that tastes like salt and bowel movements with an unusual smell. Treatment for cystic fibrosis aims to alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of infections. This may include antibiotics and medications to reduce phlegm production and open the airways.
Bronchiectasis develops when the airways have been damaged to the point of scarring. Research has shown that the damage may be due to measles, whooping cough, primary ciliary dyskinesia or cystic fibrosis. The condition may also result from birth defects in the lungs. The scar tissue narrows the airway and makes it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of bronchiectasis tend to ebb and flow, and bacterial infections worsen the symptoms. Treatment typically involves medications to keep the airway open and moist. Some forms of physical therapy that target the lungs and chest have proven effective complements to medical management of the condition.
Pneumonia affects more than 1,000,000 people every year, and approximately 50,000 people die from complications of the condition. Symptoms of pneumonia include high fever, fatigue and lethargy, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, no appetite and discolored mucus. The most common types of pneumonia are caused by bacteria or viruses. Treatment for pneumonia focuses on remedying the underlying cause and clearing the lungs to help a person breathe better.
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