Chronic respiratory diseases are chronic diseases of the airways and other structures of the lung. Some of the most common are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and pulmonary hypertension. The main risk factors include tobacco smoking; indoor air pollution; outdoor pollution; allergens occupational risks; and vulnerability.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is not one single disease but an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow. The more familiar terms ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ‘emphysema’ are no longer used, but are now included within the COPD diagnosis. The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, or a ‘need for air,’ excessive sputum production, and a chronic cough. However, COPD is not just simply a ‘smoker’s cough,’ but an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease that may progressively lead to death.
- Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person. Symptoms may occur several times in a day or week in affected individuals, and for some people become worse during physical activity or at night. During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swell, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Recurrent asthma symptoms frequently cause sleeplessness, daytime fatigue, reduced activity levels, and school and work absenteeism. Asthma has a relatively low fatality rate compared to other chronic diseases.
- Pulmonary hypertension is a condition in which there is high blood pressure in the lung arteries. How the disease starts is not always clear, but the arteries become narrow and there is less room for the blood to flow.
Over time, some of the arteries may stiffen and become completely blocked. The narrowing of the pulmonary arteries causes the right side of heart to work harder to pump blood through the lungs. Over time, the heart muscle weakens and loses its ability to pump enough blood for the body’s needs. The extra stress causes the heart to enlarge and become less flexible. Heart failure is one of the most common causes of death in people who have pulmonary hypertension. In some cases, pulmonary hypertension is caused by schistosomiasis, a worm infection that is common in Africa and Latin America; and sickle cell disease, a genetic abnormality of blood that is common in persons of African origin.
Signs and Symptoms: The general signs and symptoms of chronic respiratory diseases do not necessarily indicate having it; many other things can also cause similar signs and symptoms. If these signs or symptoms last for a long time or get worse, consult your physician.
- Chronic cough.
- Shortness of breath that doesn’t go away after exercise or after little or no exertion.
- Noisy breathing or wheezing is a sign of something unusual blocking the lungs’ airways or making them too narrow.
- Unexplained chest pain that lasts for a month or more, especially if it gets worse when breathing or coughing.