What is Lung Disease and how does it affect the body?
Approximately one-in-five people in the UK have a history of some form of lung disease, be it asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or any other long-standing respiratory diseases. Every five minutes, someone dies from a form of lung disease, making it the third biggest killer disease in the UK.
In fact, lung diseases are responsible for almost 750,000 annual hospital admissions and while heart disease fatalities have fallen by around 15% in the last decade, lung disease fatalities have remained around the same.
What is Lung Disease?
Genetics, airborne infections and smoking are responsible for many lung diseases. These diseases affect the efficiency of the lungs, which expand and contract thousands of times a day to breathe in oxygen for the blood stream and oust unwanted carbon dioxide. There are six key types of lung diseases which can affect different parts of your system:
Lung Diseases relating to the airways
A cause of inflamed airways, which tend to cause the airways to spasm, leaving sufferers short of breath and with unwanted wheezing.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Lung conditions that make it impossible to properly exhale, resulting in difficulty breathing.
- Chronic bronchitis
A type of COPD, featuring a chronic – and extremely productive – cough.
A condition relating to damaged lungs which traps air inside the lungs, making it difficult to exhale.
- Acute bronchitis
An infection of the airways, often brought on by a virus.
- Cystic fibrosis
A genetic condition resulting in an individual’s inability to clear mucus from their bronchi. The continued build-up of mucus leads to regular infections in the lung.
Lung Diseases relating to the air sacs
Brought on by an infection of the alveoli, often due to bacteria.
A slower, more progressive form of pneumonia, caused by the bacteria known as ‘Mycobacterium Tuberculosis’.
- Pulmonary edema
A condition where fluid leaks from the lung’s small blood vessels, running into the air sacs and surrounding area.
- Lung cancer
Cancerous tumours can develop in all areas of the lung. The actual location of the tumour will determine an individual’s treatment options.
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
Serious illness can cause sudden failure of the lungs. Most sufferers require mechanical ventilation to allow the lungs to recover.
A lung condition caused by the inhalation of substances that can harm the lungs e.g. asbestos and coal dust.
Lung Diseases relating to the interstitium (the tissue and space around the air sacs of the lungs)
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
A collection of lung conditions that affect the interstitium e.g. autoimmune disease and sarcoidosis.
Lung Diseases relating to the blood vessels
- Pulmonary embolism (PE)
Occurs when a blood clot escapes, travels to the heart and is pumped into the lungs. The clot can slip into the pulmonary artery, leading to shortness of breath and reduced levels of blood oxygen.
- Pulmonary hypertension
Many conditions can lead to high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, leading to uncomfortable chest pain and shortness of breath.
Lung Diseases relating to the pleura
- Pleural effusion
The collection of fluid in the pleura area between the lung and chest wall; often as a result of heart failure or pneumonia.
A lung can collapse when air enters the pleura area between the lung and chest wall.
A rare form of cancer where tumours form on the pleura (The pleura includes two thin layers of tissue that protect and cushion the lungs). It’s a condition strongly linked to asbestos exposure and can develop decades after asbestos contact.
Lung Diseases relating to the chest wall
- Obesity hypoventilation syndrome
This condition occurs due to additional weight on the abdomen and chest, making it difficult for the latter to expand, resulting in severe breathing issues.
- Neuromuscular disorders
Relating to poor function of the nerves controlling teh respiratory muscles, leading to breathing difficulties.
Common causes of Lung Disease
There are many factors which can increase your risk of developing chronic lung diseases, most notably:
Smoking is said to be the primary cause of 90% of COPD diagnoses. Smoke contains a variety of harmful chemicals which can deteriorate the lining of the lungs and airways. The NHS also states that regular exposure to other people’s smoke – known as passive smoke – can also increase your risk of developing lung disease.
- Air pollution
Continual exposure to air pollution can affect the performance of your lungs and some research has intimated that it can increase the risk of developing lung disease. Nevertheless, the direct link between air pollution and conditions such as COPD has not been officially confirmed and research is continuing.
- Fumes and dust particles
Increased exposure to specific chemical fumes and dust particles can deteriorate the health of your lungs. Substances linked to the development of conditions such as COPD include: cadmium dust and fumes, silica dust, welding fumes, grain and flour dust, coal dust and isocyanates. The NHS states that the risk of developing lung disease is even greater if you breathe in the above fumes and particles and smoke cigarettes.
Individuals who smoke and have a close relative with a lung condition are more susceptible to developing lung disease themselves. The NHS states that one-in-100 people with COPD have a genetic tendency to develop COPD called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha- antitrypsin is a rare genetic disorder when a person is missing the enzyme alpha antitrypsin that protects the tissues in the lungs.
Symptoms of Lung Disease
The most common symptoms of lung disease include:
- Experiencing breathlessness after doing simple, everyday tasks such as the housework or walking the dog.
- Increased production of phlegm or sputum.
- Long-lasting cough that’s difficult to shake off.
- Wheezing in colder temperatures.
Additional side-effects of developing lung diseases include:
- Unexpected weight loss.
- Swollen ankles.
- Chest pains.
- Coughing up blood.
- Unnecessary tiredness.
Individuals who believe they have persistent symptoms of lung disease should arrange an appointment with their GP immediately. It’s particularly important for those aged 35 and over, as well as those who smoke or used to smoke, to get in contact.Your GP can conduct a simple breathing test to determine if you have COPD or other lung conditions.
There are several treatments that can help lung disease sufferers by slowing the progression of the condition and regulating the symptoms:
- Quit smoking
If you haven’t done so already, it’s vital that you quit smoking to minimise the side-effects of your lung condition and decelerate the progression of your illness.
- Inhalers and medications
Inhalers and other medications, such as steroids and antibiotics, can be prescribed to help reduce the inflammation of the airways and improve your breathing patterns.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
A tailored rehabilitation programme, designed to provide physical exercise regimes and educate individuals on managing your condition and symptoms.
- Lung transplants
Available to only a small percentage of lung disease sufferers, lung transplants involve the removal of a damaged lung to be replaced with a healthy lung via an organ donor.
- Lung volume reduction surgery
A surgical procedure which removes badly damaged parts of a lung to enable the healthier parts of the organ to function more freely, making it easier to breathe.
6 steps to reduce your risk of developing Lung Disease
Although it’s not possible to prevent lung conditions from developing entirely, by following these six important steps you can reduce your risk over the long-term:
- Lead an active lifestyle
Regular exercise is proven to keep your lungs healthier and more efficient. Activities such as swimming and even long-distance walking can help to stretch the lungs and strengthen the muscles surrounding the rib cage and diaphragm; helping to better ventilate the lungs.
- Consume plenty of fruit and vegetables
A diet rich in fruit and veg can prevent lung disease over the long-term. These are packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants which can ward off infections and bad bacteria in the airways.
- Focus on deep breathing exercises
Healthy lungs are strong lungs. It’s therefore important to exercise your lungs thoroughly using deep breathing exercises. Those who breathe too quickly only utilise the top half of the lungs, reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Use your diaphragm to its full capacity and don’t leave the lower section of your lungs open to bacteria and germs.
- Don’t smoke or quit smoking
The risk of developing lung cancer and other conditions rises ten-fold among smokers. Cigarette smoke alone can inflame the alveoli – the millions of tiny air sacks that connect the air we inhale to our lungs. If these are damaged, it can lead to breathing conditions such as emphysema and COPD, putting unnecessary strain on the heart.
- Avoid second-hand smoke
By the same token, if you live or work with smokers, you should stay away from them when they do smoke. Second-hand or passive smoke is proven to accelerate the development of lung diseases without even having to put a cigarette between your lips.
- Assess your workplace for carcinogens
Do everything you can to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals at work. If your employer provides you with a face mask to wear while working, wear it at all times. Furthermore, your risk of lung disease from work-related carcinogens is exacerbated if you smoke also.
The information in this article is intended as general advice only. If you or your family members require medical advice or have any medical concerns, please contact your GP.
Please note that not all conditions discussed above are covered by a CSH plan. For more information on what is covered please visit our FAQ page or speak to one of our friendly sales advisers on 0800 917 4325†