Lung disease is a term used to describe a variety of conditions which cause respiratory dysfunction. The majority of lung diseases can be classified into one of two categories, either obstructive or restrictive lung disease.

Pathophysiology

Obstructive Lung Diseases

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Cystic Fibrosis
Restrictive Lung Diseases
  • Pneumoconoiosis
  • Radiation Fibrosis
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Pneumonitis
  • Interstitial Pneumonia
  • Respiratory Distress Syndromes

Obstructive lung disease

Obstructive lung disease refers to lung conditions which limit an individual’s ability to exhale air. As a result, after full exhalation, individuals with obstructive lung disease are left with a large quantity of air remaining in their lungs. This inability to exhale an adequate amount of air occurs due to damage of the lungs or narrowing of the airways, typically from exposure to harmful airborne substances (e.g. smoke, chemical fumes, pollution, dust etc.), infection or genetic predisposition.

Restrictive lung disease

Restrictive lung disease occurs when the lungs are restricted in their ability to fully expand and results in a reduced maximum lung volume. The most common causes of restrictive lung disease are due to damage or scarring of lung tissue, neural damage, immune system dysfunction, muscular weakness, or stiffness of the chest wall.

Prevalence

According to the Lung Foundation Australia, at least 1 out of 10 Australians have some form of lung disease. Furthermore, lung disease is responsible for approximately 14% of all deaths within Australia each year, making it the fourth largest cause of death. It is also important to note that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is overall more expensive to treat per case than heart disease, osteoporosis or arthritis, and COPD itself affects more than 1.45million Australians.

Signs, Symptoms and Detection

Some common signs and symptoms of lung disease include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortness of breath with light to moderate exertion or at rest
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Coughing up mucus, phlegm or blood
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Cyanosis – insufficient oxygen supply results in skin having a blue hue

If you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above or are concerned that you may have lung disease, it is recommended that you promptly consult your physician regarding the issue. Your physician may request that you undergo a spirometry test to assess your respiratory function.

Prevention

In order to minimise your risk of developing lung disease the best course of action you can take is to avoid harmful airborne substances such as smoke, dust, chemical fumes and pollution where possible. Additionally, it is also recommended that individuals maintain a healthy diet, perform regular physical activity, and attend regular medical check-ups.

Management

Unfortunately there is no cure for the majority of lung diseases. For individuals with lung disease, it is important that they seek medical advice to ensure the progression of their disease and its associated symptoms are minimalized.

Some general tips for better managing lung disease include:

  • Avoid or cease smoking – Smoking is the leading cause of lung disease and significantly increases your risk of developing a large variety of medical issues.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke, chemical fumes, dust and pollution where possible
  • Obtain an annual flu vaccination – Respiratory infections can lead to a number of severe complications in individuals who have lung disease and can even accelerate lung degeneration.
  • Maintain a healthy diet – Individuals with lung disease expend a substantially greater amount of energy breathing compared to people without any lung dysfunction. For this reason alone, it is important that individuals with lung disease meet their nutritional needs to ensure they can remain active and avoid further health complications. Please consult your doctor or a dietician for more information regarding your nutritional health.
  • Perform regular physical activity – Regular exercise should form a core component of an individual’s lung disease management plan. Physical activity is important to help improve/maintain lung function, strengthen muscles used for breathing, decrease fatigue and improve cardiorespiratory efficiency. Depending upon the severity of the lung condition, exercise should be kept to low-moderate intensities and be progressive in nature. Furthermore, exercises should be focused on activities required for daily function and to assist with airway conduction. If you would like more information regarding the types of physical activity you should be performing, please consult your doctor or an exercise physiologist for more information.