A human can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, and only three minutes without air. The ability to breathe is thus of utmost importance, making the lungs an indispensable part of the human body.
The lungs are a pair of inverted-pyramid-shaped spongy, air-filled organs on either side of the chest. It helps transport oxygen to all body parts and filters out harmful carbon dioxide, keeping the body healthy and running.
However, with the increase in pollution and unhealthy lifestyles, our respiratory health is immensely affected, giving way to multiple lung infections. While this issue is consistent throughout the globe, India is facing quite the burn. Having about 18% of the world population, India is also battling an increasing level of chronic respiratory diseases.
Common Chronic Respiratory Diseases
An overview of multiple medical journals and research papers points out a few common chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) in India.
Asthma is a non-communicable disease that can affect people of any age group. It is one of the most common chronic lung infections. It is caused when the airways in the lungs narrow down due to inflammation or muscle tightening. It results in shortness of breath, sleep disturbance, tiredness throughout the day, and lack of concentration. Severe cases of asthma require hospitalisation, while the most severe cases can even lead to death.
The recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD, 1990–2019) estimated the total burden of asthma in India as 34.3 million, accounting for 13.09% of the global burden. Individuals with a family history of asthma, overweight, premature birth, low-birth weight, and exposure to tobacco smoke are more susceptible to asthma than others.
Symptoms: Some of the most common symptoms of asthma are cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, fast heart rate, throat irritation, anxiety, or tightening in the chest.
Diagnosis: Besides enquiring about common symptoms, the doctor will conduct a few tests to diagnose asthma. This also helps rule out other lung infections while establishing any link to other body issues. Spirometry and peak flow are two standard tests carried out to determine the existence of asthma. Methacholine challenge, imaging tests, allergy testing, and others are also conducted to conclude.
Treatment: Asthma can only be managed, not cured. Asthma is typically managed with rescue inhalers (salbutamol) to treat symptoms and controller inhalers (steroids) to prevent symptoms. Severe cases may necessitate longer-acting inhalers that keep the airways open (formoterol, salmeterol, tiotropium) and inhalant steroids.
Read More: All You Need To Know About Asthma
COPD (Common Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
COPD is an umbrella term for a group of inflammatory lung diseases that obstruct the airflow from the lungs. The common conditions that give way to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, varying in severity. People suffering from COPD are more in danger of developing heart conditions, lung cancer, and multiple other factors. Smoking tobacco, breathing in polluted air, and even genetic conditions are significant causes of COPD. About 1% of COPD patients suffer from a genetic disorder resulting in alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAt) deficiency, which can also cause liver diseases. Reports suggest about 30 million Indians suffer from COPD.
Symptoms: The symptoms typically include wheezing, consistent coughing, dyspnea, and mucus production. COPD is a progressive lung disease and only worsens over time, including symptoms like frequent colds or flu, blue fingernails, and weight loss.
Diagnosis: The diagnosis is mainly carried out through a thorough study of symptoms, medical history, and spirometry tests. After going through the usual round of physical exams and breathing tests, the most common spirometry tests are carried out to ensure the fitness of the lungs. Additional tests like chest X-rays, CT scans, and arterial blood gas tests can rule out heart failure risks and other lung disease possibilities. This can also help determine the cause of the symptoms.
Treatment: Although COPD cannot be cured, it can be managed with medication and a healthy lifestyle. This can help slow the disease. The doctor can suggest bronchodilators, combination inhalers, antibiotics, pneumonia vaccines, or corticosteroids. For severe cases of COPD, doctors can even suggest surgery.
A part of COPD, bronchitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the lining of your bronchial tubes, which transport air to and from your lungs. Patients with bronchitis frequently cough up thickened, discoloured mucus. There are two types of bronchitis – acute and chronic. While acute bronchitis is quite common, chronic bronchitis is a much more severe issue. Chronic bronchitis is a recurring cough that can last over two years. In such a case, situations can occur in which symptoms can worsen. Symptoms: Breathing problems, chest congestion, coughing that brings up clear, white, yellow, or green mucus, shortness of breath, and wheezing are common signs of chronic bronchitis.
Diagnosis: The initial diagnosis involves inquiries into family and medical history, physical tests, and questions about the duration of the cough and the colour of the mucus. Following this, lung function tests, checking oxygen levels in the blood, a chest X-ray and mucus testing will be carried out. This helps eliminate the possibility of any other forms of lung infections while figuring out the best course of treatment.
Treatment: While acute bronchitis goes away independently, chronic bronchitis requires a series of medical actions. Medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and bronchodilators are suggested. Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehab can help you breathe more easily. A mucus-clearing device can also be used to clear out the lung blockage and cough easier.
Also known as Hay Fever, allergic rhinitis can induce allergic reactions, causing sneezing, congestion, itchy nose, and sore throat. It is an allergic reaction to tiny particles in the air called allergens. Hay fever is caused by dust mites, mould, dust, pet dander, and pollen from trees and plants. It can occur seasonally or all year round and is not contagious. Its tendency to last a lifetime or several years makes it a chronic lung infection. Around 20-30% of the Indian population suffers from this. Despite its commonness, it can be managed through medication and proper care.
Symptoms: The symptoms of allergic rhinitis are the same as those of a common cold – runny and itchy nose, watery and red eyes, wheezing, coughing, and nasal congestion. Diagnosis: To arrive at a diagnosis, a health professional first enquires about the symptoms, medical and family history. An immunoglobulin E (IgE) test is then carried out to measure antibodies to specific allergens in the blood. A skin prick test can also be carried out where an allergen is placed on the skin surface, and the skin underneath is pricked. This allows the allergen to get under the skin surface. An allergic reaction turns the skin red and itchy within a few minutes.
Treatment: Based on the commonality of hay fever, numerous over-the-counter medications are available in the form of tablets, nasal spray, liquid, injections, and eye drops. Antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroid nasal sprays, leukotriene inhibitors, and immunotherapy can also be suggested for treatment.
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the lungs and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the world. 6.9 per 100,000 of the Indian population suffers from this. People who smoke are most susceptible to lung cancer, but it can also occur in people who have never smoked. The risk of lung cancer increases with the frequency of inhaling toxic fumes due to pollution or cigarette smoking. Family history and passive smoking can also lead to lung cancer. Non-small and small cell lung cancer are two major types of lung cancer.
Symptoms: Lung cancer symptoms usually occur at an advanced stage. The primary symptoms include a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing blood, weakness, wheezing, losing weight without trying, headache, and bone pain.
Diagnosis: People at high risk of having lung cancer due to their family history or lifestyle can choose to undergo annual lung cancer screening. To diagnose lung cancer, imaging tests, sputum cytology, and biopsy are ordered by the doctor in charge. A thorough lab test can reveal the type of lung cancer and the infected cells’ characteristics, which can help determine the perfect course of treatment.
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy are all possible treatments.
It’s said that prevention is better than cure. While all respiratory infections cannot be prevented, the chances of contracting one can be minimised by following certain good habits. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that there is nothing better than self-hygiene.
● Wash hands periodically
● Sanitise hands before touching face and mouth
● Avoid crowded places to minimise spread of viral infection
● Get your flu shots
● Avoid smoking
● Wear masks
● Stay at home if sick to prevent spreading it to other
● Practice breathing exercises, yoga, and exercises to reduce weight
● Minimise exposure to outdoor pollution
● Keep indoor pollution-free
● Avoid passive or second-hand smoking
● Eat healthily
Consult a Doctor
If left untreated, lung infections can become severe. Damage or illness in the lungs and surrounding tissues can result in recurrent symptoms (such as a cough, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing). While most viral infections go away independently, persistent symptoms indicate more profound issues.
Visit a doctor immediately if
● Cough persists for more than three weeks
● Have trouble breathing
● Cough out blood
● Have severe chest pain
● Suffer from hallucinations or persistent vomiting
● Mental confusion
● Fever persists for an extended period
● Already suffer from other chronic health issues
Seek medical attention if severe symptoms arise or existing symptoms worsen. For specialised treatment of the lungs, you can visit a pulmonologist.
Our lungs are self-cleaning organs, but they can use the perks of a healthy lifestyle. Making a few minor changes in your lifestyle can help remove toxins from your body. While outdoor remedies are often expensive, a few home remedies can keep you on track.
● Get an air purifier or a humidifier
● Clean air conditioning and heat vents periodically
● Exercise as often as possible
● Drink plenty of fluids
● Try a warm mix of honey and lemon
● Homemade kadha or herbal mix can be beneficial
● Practice percussion
● Take in Vitamin D and anti-inflammatory food
The lungs are undoubtedly one of the essential parts of the human body. Keeping it healthy and in proper working condition is a major responsibility. Preventive measures can counter common respiratory infections. Most preventive measures are accessible as at-home practices. Most viral infections can be treated with over-the-counter medication or go away on their own. But if symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing get worse, it’s best to get help from a doctor.
What is the difference between asthma and COPD?
– Asthma and COPD are pretty similar, including symptoms such as shortness of breath and restricted airflow. However, COPD is a chronic and progressive disease, while allergens frequently trigger asthma attacks. The primary cause of COPD is smoking.
Asthmatics do not necessarily develop COPD; COPD patients do not always have asthma. It is possible, however, to have both of these respiratory conditions. In such a case, it is advisable to treat both.
Can lung infections be cured?
– Acute lung infections can be cured or often get cured by themselves. However, chronic lung infection, as its name suggests, is long-term or sometimes lifelong. Such chronic infections can only be managed through treatment and medications.
What are the other types of common lung infections?
– Besides the chronic lung infections mentioned above, a few common lung infections can be cured – Cystic Fibrosis, rhinosinusitis, allergic rhinitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), and acute bronchitis.
Can a healthy life prevent lung infection?
– Yes. A healthier lifestyle results in a more robust immune system that can fight off any viral infections. Building up your immune system is the first step.
Is smoking the leading cause of chronic lung infections?
– As has been noted, smokers are most susceptible to chronic lung infections. Smoking weakens the pristine condition of the lungs, making them vulnerable. While not all smokers get infected, and not all non-smokers are safe from lung infections, avoiding this direct lung pollution is an excellent way to go.
Can COVID-19 worsen chronic respiratory infection?
– The novel virus COVID-19 directly affects the lungs and often leaves a long-term impact. People suffering from a chronic disease with an already weakened immune system become an easy target.
Disclaimer: The information included here is only for knowledge-sharing purposes, and the blog is not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis, medical advice, or treatment by a healthcare professional. Every individual needs advice based on diagnosis and evidence, hence the reader should consult their doctor to determine the disease and any treatment must be taken under appropriate medical guidance.