What is lung disease? Symptoms, causes and prevention

Lung disease refers to problems that prevent the lungs from functioning properly. Typically, lung disease manifests as a combination of airway diseases, interstitial lung diseases and lung circulation diseases. This guide will explore such diseases, highlighting the causes, symptoms and prevention/treatments available.

What is lung disease?

Lung disease is very common in the UK and at least 2 million people have it without being diagnosed. There are various types of lung diseases, including the following:

Airway diseases

Airway diseases cause a blockage or narrowing of the tubes that carry gases such as oxygen in and out of the lungs. As the flow of oxygen is restricted, it creates difficulties breathing and can give a feeling of ‘breathing through a straw’. The most common airway diseases include:

  • Asthma is a very common type of lung disease, which usually starts in childhood though can develop at any age. This condition affects a person’s ability to breathe as it causes the lung’s airways to become narrow and swollen. Asthma attacks can be triggered by several factors including dust, allergens, pollution, exercise, and stress. It cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed effectively with treatment.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a condition in which the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. The inflammation leads to the thickening of the lungs’ lining and causes excessive mucus production, which both contribute to breathing difficulties. COPD can take several forms, including emphysema (which affect the air sacs) and chronic bronchitis (which affects the bronchial tube). The main cause of COPD is smoking though it can occasionally occur in people who have never smoked.
  • Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways become abnormally wide with an excess of mucus. The result is that the lungs are more likely to become infected.

Interstitial lung diseases

The alveolar wall is the thin lining of the lungs where oxygen from breathing in is exchanged for carbon dioxide which is breathed out.  Interstitial lung disease is a group of diseases in which there is inflammation or scarring of the alveolar wall. The consequence of this is that the ability of the lungs to take in oxygen becomes diminished causing breathlessness, often accompanied by a dry cough and fatigue. The most common types of interstitial lung diseases include pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.

Lung circulation diseases

Lung circulation diseases are those caused by clotting, inflammation and/or scarring of the blood vessels in the lungs. They can cause respiratory problems, as well as affect heart function. The most common type of lung circulation disease is pulmonary hypertension, which causes people to get extremely out of breath when exercising.

What are the symptoms of lung disease?

The symptoms of lung disease vary between conditions and can indicate which type of lung disease you are experiencing. As a general guideline, the most common symptoms per type of lung condition are as follow:

Airway diseases symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to inhale fully
  • Coughing/coughing up mucus

Interstitial lung tissue diseases symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen fingertips (clubbed fingers)

Lung circulation diseases symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Swelling of the ankles (oedema)

What are the causes of lung disease?

Lung diseases can develop for a variety of reasons many of which are preventable but some are not.  When it comes to developing lung disease, the main risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Occupational exposure to dust and chemicals
  • Air pollution
  • Allergies
  • Genetics and family history

As lung disease is typically a long-term health problem, it is important that you look after your lungs to avoid a potentially lifelong medical issue that needs to be managed with treatments. The biggest culprit of lung disease is smoking, particularly when it comes to developing COPD and lung cancer.

How to prevent and treat lung disease

Prevention

You can reduce your risk of developing lung disease by ensuring that you:

  • Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke
  • Exercise regularly
  • Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face
  • Reduce your exposure to pollutants

Treatment

Lung diseases are generally long-term problems. However, there are several treatment options that can help manage symptoms.

Treatments options include:

  • Quitting smoking (particularly in the case of COPD)
  • Inhalers – to assist with breathing
  • Medicines – also to assist with breathing
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – exercise program to strengthen the lungs
  • Surgery – in severe cases
  • Lung transplant – as a last resort for the most severe cases

How can I get tested for lung disease?

At Bluecrest, we offer lung function checks with our Complete Health Check package, which will assess the health of your lung and give you a ‘lung age’ if you are a smoker. Our Cancer Awareness Health Check packages also include a lung function check, as well as provide you with various cancer risk assessments.

Our health check packages all consist of in-depth, face-to-face health checks with a Health Assessment Specialist, which you can easily book online at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics available nationwide. You will receive a wide array of other key health markers and a detailed results report sent through the post.