Asthma is a disorder of the lungs that involves inflammation and constriction of the airways, blocking air from flowing through. These blockages can cause mild coughing to full blown asthma attacks. Asthma is a common disease that affects millions of people each year.
The specific cause of asthma is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain triggers, like allergens, infections, cold air and physical activities, can cause a flare-up of symptoms. Symptoms of asthma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Bouts of coughing or wheezing
- Trouble sleeping due to coughing
- Whistling sound when exhaling
Cases of asthma can vary from occurring a few times a week up to a few times everyday. Certain diagnostic tests like a spirometry and peak flow can be used to diagnose asthma if these symptoms are present.
Although asthma is a serious condition with no cure, it can usually be controlled through long-term medications. Quick-relief medications can also be used to treat attacks. It is important to monitor your asthma symptoms and take measures to avoid triggers and prevent serious attacks.
Bronchitis is a condition that often develops after a cold or other respiratory infection. As cold symptoms subside, you may develop a slight fever or the chills, along with a cough. Bronchitis can also develop from cigarette smoke or other pollutants and may be a chronic form of the condition.
Symptoms of bronchitis, aside from those accompanying a cold, include:
- Burning or constricted feeling in chest
- Fever and chills
- Chest congestion
Fortunately, like a cold, symptoms of bronchitis usually go away on their own after a few days. Getting plenty of rest and drinking liquids can help speed the process.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition involving a constant obstruction of the airways, which results in difficulty breathing. COPD usually includes emphysema and/or chronic obstructive bronchitis; both of these conditions usually develop from long-term cigarette smoking. In some cases, however, COPD can be caused by other irritants, such as air pollution and chemical fumes. This condition affects nearly 12 million people in the US and is the fourth most common cause of death.
Causes of COPD
Most cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke, secondhand smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes that damage the lungs and irritate the airways.
COPD is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults, although some younger patients may be diagnosed because of an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition.
Symptoms of COPD
Patients with COPD often experience:
- Chronic cough with mucus (smoker's cough)
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
These symptoms are common among many smokers, and may be present years before COPD is diagnosed. Patients with COPD may also experience frequent colds or flu, along with swelling in the ankles, feet and legs in severe cases. Symptoms worsen over time, and may require a hospital stay if they become severe enough or do not respond to treatment.
After evaluating your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may perform lung function tests or a chest X-ray to diagnose COPD. A lung function test measures how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you breathe and how well the lungs carry oxygen to the blood. The most common lung function test is called spirometry.
Treatment of COPD
Since COPD is a chronic condition, there is no cure currently available. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and slowing the progress of the disease, allowing patients to enjoy an active and healthy life . The most important step that patients can take in treating COPD is to quit smoking. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to relax the muscles and relieve inflammation around the airways, oxygen therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation. Surgery may be performed for severe cases of emphysema to clear the airways from large obstructions.
Emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that is characterized by loss of elasticity in the alveolar tissue, usually caused by toxic chemicals within the body. The blood vessels feeding the alveoli are killed by these chemicals, causing air to become trapped in the lungs in collapsed regions of bronchioles. Gradually, the deterioration leads to significant decreases in lung surface area that make it difficult for the body to maintain oxygen levels in the blood, despite hyperventilation.
Most cases of emphysema are completely preventable, as they are caused by easily avoided substances. The most common of these is smoke from tobacco, which has many toxic chemicals that become trapped in the alveoli. The body’s natural inflammatory response then overcompensates by sometimes rupturing the alveolar septum, reducing the elasticity of the tissue and causing large bulbous pockets of stagnant air to form. Emphysema can also be caused, or simply exacerbated, by the existence of a genetic disorder known as Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency; the shortage of this enzyme causes further vulnerability of the alveolar elasticity.
Although there are a plethora of treatments for emphysema, it is considered a degenerative condition that cannot be cured. In order to successfully recover from this condition, it is important for patients to both quit smoking and avoid all cigarette and cigar smoke at all costs. Other common treatments include:
- Steroid medication
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
- Supplemental oxygen
More extreme treatments, such as surgery and organ replacement, tend to have many risks associated with them, the most prominent of which would be the lack of effectiveness or long-term success. In fact, lung replacement requires such a rigid and power immune-suppressant regimen that the patient becomes highly susceptible to other diseases. Current research has led to experimentation with an acne medication based on vitamin A (commercially, Retin-A), which has somewhat reversed the effects of emphysema in mice.
To learn more about our Pulmonology Services, please contact us at (310) 657-3792 today to schedule an appointment.