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Types of lung diseases and their causes

Lungs are a very critical human organ; they are responsible for taking in oxygen and delivering it to the bloodstream. The cells in the body require this oxygen to grow and function effectively. They expand and contract a thousand times every day. During a normal course of the day, an average human being breathes about 25,000 times; but people with lung disease have a problem in breathing.

Lung disease refers to any problem, disorder or diseases including infections which impact the functioning of the lungs; thus, making it difficult to breathe. Lung diseases are a very common medical problem and often treatable. However, in certain cases, they can cause serious complications and could also prove fatal.

Some of the common types of lung diseases and their causes include:

Lung Diseases Affecting the Airways

The windpipe in the body known as trachea, branches into tubes known as bronchi. These tubes, therefore, branch further into smaller tubes throughout the lungs. Some of the problems related to airways include:

Asthma: Asthma is a condition in which the airways become inflamed and may cause spasm leading to wheezing and shortness of breath. Some causes of asthma include allergies, infections, or extreme pollution.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This problem affects the normal breathing process, causing the person to exhale inappropriately. This is majorly caused because of long-term exposure to irritants and also from the use of tobacco, cigar or other smoke inhaling ways.

Chronic Bronchitis: This condition causes swelling and irritation in the bronchial tubes, which are the airways that carry the air to and from the air sacs to the lungs. This is a result of repeated damage or irritation of the lung tissue due to smoking, long term exposure to irritants, pollution, dust and fumes from the environment.

Emphysema: This is a form of COPD in which the air is trapped in the lungs; the most common symptom includes trouble in blowing air out. The main causes include long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, certain drugs, chemical fumes and dust.

Acute Bronchitis: This sudden infection of the airways is generally a result of a virus or bacteria entering the lungs and causing inflammation of the bronchial tubes.

Cystic Fibrosis: This condition causes problems in clearing mucus out of the bronchi which leads to repeated lung infections. The main reasons for the condition is a change or mutation in the gene called CFTR – cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator.

Lung Diseases Affecting the Air Sacs

The airways of the lungs branch into smaller tubes known as bronchioles which form clusters of air sacs known as alveoli. These air sacs make up most of the lung tissue. Some common diseases which affect the alveoli include:

Pneumonia: An infection of the alveoli caused by virus, infections, fungi or bacteria including Coronavirus forms such as COVID-19. This condition causes inflammation in the airspaces in the lungs.

Tuberculosis: Tuberculosis or TB is a contagious, airborne disease which primarily affects the chest/lungs and has the potential to destroy the body tissue. Tuberculosis can spread to other organs and tissues of the body such as the brain and spine. It is caused by a special bacterium known as Mycobacterium, which spread from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, laughing, etc.

Pulmonary Edema: A condition caused due to excessive fluids in the lungs which collects in the numerous air sacs in the lungs, making it difficult for a person to breathe. In most cases, pulmonary oedema is a result of heart problems.

Lung Cancer: A type of cancer which begins in the lungs and occurs in people who smoke. Most often it impacts the main part of the lungs, in or near the air sacs.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the tiny air sacs of the lungs. This fluid prevents the lungs from completely filing them with oxygen, implying lesser oxygen in the body and thereby the bloodstream. The shortage of oxygen in the body impacts the body’s normal functioning. This is a severe and sudden illness; an example includes COVID-19.

Pneumoconiosis: This refers to a group of conditions which are caused because of inhaling something which causes injury to the lungs. Some examples include black lung disease caused due to coal dust and asbestosis because of asbestos dust.

Lung Diseases Affecting the Interstitium

The Interstitium is the thin, fragile lining between the alveoli; this delicate lining comprises of tiny blood vessels which allow the gas to transfer between the alveoli and the blood. Some common diseases impacting the Interstitium include:

Interstitial lung disease (ILD): This refers to a group of lung conditions including sarcoidosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and autoimmune disease.

Pneumonia and Pulmonary Edema can also affect the Interstitium.

Lung Diseases Affecting Blood Vessels

The right side of the heart receives low-oxygen blood from the veins and pumps the blood into the lungs via pulmonary arteries. These blood vessels can be affected by some diseases, such as:

Pulmonary Embolism (PE): A blood clot generally in the deep leg vein breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the heart, which eventually proceeds to the lungs. The clot, when reached the lungs, sticks to the pulmonary artery causing shortness of breath and extremely low levels of blood oxygen.

Pulmonary Hypertension: Even though there is no definitive cause of pulmonary hypertension, yet it can occur due to multiple factors. The condition causes high blood pressure leading to acute shortness of breath and chest pain.

Lung Diseases Affecting the Pleura

The thin lining that surrounds the lungs and the lines inside the chest wall is known as pleura. A thin layer of fluid exists in the lung’s surface allowing the pleura to slide along the chest wall while breathing. Some common diseases affecting the pleura are:

Pleural Effusion: In this condition, the fluid collects around the chest wall and the lungs. Typically caused by pneumonia or heart failure, this problem can impact the breathing and may require treatment to drain the excess fluid.

Pneumothorax: This occurs when air is trapped between the chest wall and the lungs, thereby causing the lungs to collapse. This can be caused due to chest injury, an existing lung disease, ruptured air blisters, mechanical ventilation, and more.

Mesothelioma: This is a very rare form of cancer and is usually formed on the pleura. Cancer develops after several years of post-exposure to asbestos.

Lung Diseases Affecting the Chest Wall

The chest wall is very critical to the breathing process. Muscles link the ribs to each other, helping the chest expand properly. Also, the diaphragm descends with each breath, thus, enabling expansion with each breath. Some diseases which affect the chest wall include:

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome: Excessive weight on the chest and stomach can limit the ability of the chest to expand. This can cause serious health issues including acute shortness of breath.

Neuromuscular Disorders: This happens when the nerves administering the respiratory muscles do not function properly, thus causing trouble in breathing. Some common reasons for the disorder include inherited disorders, genes, family history, hormonal disorders and auto-immune problems.

Overall, lung diseases range from mild to severe; however, in both cases, appropriate medical treatment can help relieve symptoms and improve the general functioning and the overall quality of life.

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