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What Are Common Problems with the Respiratory System?

By A. Reed
Updated Jan 27, 2024
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Respiratory diseases refer to chronic conditions limiting the capacity of the lungs to expand, causing airway obstruction as tissue or blood vessel damage presents problems with gas exchange or circulation. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary hypertension are some of the most common problems with the respiratory system, affecting many people worldwide. In addition, lung cancer, rhinitis, and pneumonia are other common respiratory illnesses that affect people around the globe.

Problems with the respiratory system are manifest by bronchoconstriction, a tightening of muscles of air passages within the lungs, resulting in wheezing and dyspnea. Very common among children, asthma is responsible for the most childhood hospitalizations as of 2011. Other symptoms include swelling of the airway, inflammation, coughing, and lung remodeling, a progression of changes in structure and tissue occurring as a result of long-term inflammation, generally due to uncontrolled asthma. Typical factors provoking asthmatic episodes include exposure to environmental elements such as tobacco smoke, dog or cat dander, pollen, and cold air. Sometimes exercise, dust, and exhaust fumes exacerbate or induce symptoms as well.

Cigarette smoking is a chief cause of problems with the respiratory system, namely COPD and cancer of the lung and throat. Characterized by a persistent cough, breathing difficulty, and excessive mucus production, COPD refers to a diagnosis including several lung diseases: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma. Loss of air sac elasticity, a principle hallmark of the disease, causes COPD sufferers to struggle to breathe as result of trapped air and the inability to inhale enough air. There is no cure for COPD, as it is a progressive illness and only symptoms and acute exacerbations can be effectively managed. Lifestyle changes are essential to managing lung cancer and COPD, one of the most beneficial being the cessation of tobacco products.

Pumonary hypertension is high blood pressure, which occurs within arteries of the lungs generally produced as a result of narrowing blood vessels, causing a lack of oxygen and possible heart failure. Manifestations include dizziness, edema of the lower extremities, blue lip color, and tiredness. A disease having several possible causes such as COPD, heart disease, and pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension has also been found to be prevalent in patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)infection. Primarily affecting African-Americans, sickle cell anemia is a disease which produces sickle-shaped red blood cells causing episodic crises involving blood vessel obstruction and damage, leading to problems with the respiratory system. Research indicates that oftentimes a sickle cell disease diagnosis along with pulmonary hypertension is fatal.

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