Pulmonary Symptoms

The symptoms for respiratory disorders can be so similar that often illnesses are not diagnosed properly. The basics of the respiratory system are not complicated: air brought in through the windpipe flows into bronchial tubes or airways that end in a tiny, flexible sac. Most respiratory diseases disrupt this process in some fashion. The impact of COPD in particular can be applied to many lung disorders. They include:

  • The airways and air sacs lose their flexible and elastic qualities
  • Walls between substantial numbers of the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The inner walls of the bronchial airways become swollen
  • The airways generate more mucus than usual, clogging up the air passage.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pulmonary Disorders

The excess of mucus is indicative of bronchitis, which is one of the afflictions associated with COPD. The destruction of the air intake apparatus is associated with emphysema, which is the other major affliction that makes up a COPD diagnosis.

The symptoms for COPD, for asthma, for bronchitis, for pneumonia and for many other respiratory disorders include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • A persistent cough that produces mucus
  • Loss of functionality due to lack of oxygen

The infectious diseases in this group will also often produce a fever, sweating, and hypersensitive skin. Because they all impact breathing capacity, they will also be characterized by lack of energy and by the fact that small tasks require great exertion. Twenty four million people in the United States currently suffer from COPD.

Symptoms for other Non-infectious Lung Disorders

Lung cancer most often begins with a persistent cough. At some point however, it generally will introduce pain in the chest. The same is true of pleural mesothelioma which begins with a cough and progresses to shortness of breath along with chest pain. While this is the most common form of mesothelioma, its diagnosis can be slow because the symptoms are shared with so many other diseases. In addition mesothelioma has an extraordinary latency period of thirty to fifty years.

The symptoms for pulmonary fibrosis include shortness of breath, the tight chest and the persistent cough as well. This term is actually a catch-all for dozens of lung disorders that all have the same initial impact, one of which is asbestosis. Development of these diseases includes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the air sacs to which they are attached and the small blood vessels that carry the oxygen. Generally they are referred to as interstitial lung diseases because they involve the tissue between the air sacs (the interstitium). Fibrosis means scarring of the tissue, which causes the inflammations.

The symptoms of interstitial lung disease (ILD) include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Dry cough that does not produce phlegm
  • Discomfort in chest
  • Wheezing

Pulmonary symptoms begin with breathing problems and often progress to chest pain. It often takes chest X-rays, MRIs or CT scans to identify the specific health problem involved. What the American Lung Association makes clear, however, is that as many as 35 million Americans are living with chronic lung disease today.


  1. National Heart Lung & Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Copd/Copd_WhatIs.html
  2. National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/mesothelioma
  3. Canadian Lung Association, http://www.lung.ca/diseases-maladies/a-z/pfibrosis-fibrosep/index_e.php
  4. Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/interstitial-lung-disease/DS00592/DSECTION=symptoms
  5. American Lung Association, http://www.lungusa.org/about-us/our-impact/

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