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What are Lung Problems?

Every cell in the body requires oxygen to function and produces carbon dioxide as a waste product. In order to keep the body’s tissues constantly supplied with fresh oxygen and to keep waste from building up, the lungs pump air in and out, even while we are sleeping or unaware. Unfortunately, diseases and disorders affecting the lungs are some of the most common medical problems afflicting people around the world. Some of the most common lung problems include asthma, COPD, pneumonia, and lung cancer.

Asthma is a chronic disease where swollen, inflamed airways make it hard to breathe. It is often brought on by specific triggers. While asthma is a common condition, affecting millions of people, it can also be serious and even fatal in severe cases. Treatment involves avoiding triggers and using inhaled corticosteroid medications.

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is the name given to two illnesses that both cause difficulty breathing: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the air sacs of the lungs become damaged, while with bronchitis they become clogged with mucus. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It is almost always caused by breathing irritants into the lungs, such as smoking or heavy pollution.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by bacteria, a virus, or fungi. Most healthy people recover from pneumonia in a week or two, but for some people pneumonia can be fatal. There are treatments available for pneumonia, but the best treatment is to prevent getting sick in the first place. People who are at risk should make sure they get a flu shot every year. There is also a vaccine available for the type of bacteria that causes pneumonia.

Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells inside the lung grow into a tumor, destroying healthy tissue. Because it is so difficult to detect lung cancer in early stages when it has few symptoms, it is the deadliest form of cancer, responsible for the most cancer deaths both in the U.S. and worldwide. Most lung cancer is caused by exposure to tobacco smoke, but between 10-15% of cases are not linked to smoking.

Some problems with the lungs are minor and are not cause for concern. However if symptoms have lasted for a month or more, even if they are minor, it is worth checking with a healthcare professional to make sure your lungs are healthy. A cough, shortness of breath, or excess mucus production that lingers for weeks are all worth getting looked at.