Respiratory disorders, or lung diseases, include afflictions such as asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, and others large and lethal (asbestosis) as well as small and annoying (the common cold). They are not easily dismissed as medical problems however. Each year, nearly 121,000 Americans die of lung disease. Lung disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Today, more than 35 million Americans are living with chronic lung disorders.
It helps to understand how the lungs work when trying to understand what causes the pulmonary symptoms for lung disorders. When we breathe, the air we inhale is sucked through the windpipe into tubes called bronchial airways or bronchial tubes. The airways branch off in many directions and at the end of these tubes are tiny inflatable sacs called alveoli that retrieve the oxygen. When these sacs are damaged, breathing capacity is lessened. That’s the primary pulmonary cause for COPD, which eventually results in substantial, irreversible damage.
The airways and air sacs in the lungs lose their elastic quality, becoming hardened and fibrous. The walls between the air sacs are destroyed, while the walls of the airways carrying oxygen become inflamed – reducing their capacity. A chronic condition of mucus generation develops, further clogging of the airways.
Other respiratory disorders exhibit the same pulmonary symptoms. Infectious lung disorders such as pneumonia or the common upper respiratory system diseases like the flu, the chest cold or sinusitis will cause breathing difficulties until the disease passes. More serious problems like lung cancer and cystic fibrosis may cause permanent reduction in breathing capacity. The pulmonary embolism is a more common respiratory disorder in the pulmonary artery that can be life threatening. It involves blockage of the artery by fat, by a tumor, or by a blood clot. Heart disease, cancer and COPD can cause a pulmonary embolism.
Infectious Respiratory Disorders
Pneumonia and tuberculosis are two more serious infectious diseases that are classified as respiratory disorders. Fortunately, the antibiotics on the market today provide effective treatment choices so that these lung diseases need not be life threatening. Pulmonary fibrosis is a generic term for over dozens of diseases that cause inflammation in the alveoli, the bronchial airways or in small blood vessels; in addition there is “idiopathic” pulmonary fibrosis for which there is no evident cause.
Possible Legal Issues for COPD
Perhaps the most common respiratory disorder apart from colds, flu and other upper respiratory infections is chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). This disease is brought on by smoking and/or exposure to airborne, inhaled toxins such as asbestos fibers. The two principal components of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, for which the primary pulmonary symptom is a permanent and progressive reduction in breathing capacity.
COPD is sometimes diagnosed as secondary to asbestos exposure. If you have a lung disorder that restricts your breathing and believe you have been exposed to asbestos at some point in your life, you should talk with your doctor about the possible relationship between the two. You should also consult an asbestos attorney about compensation for health problems caused by the asbestos.
- WomensHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/faq/lung-disease.cfm#b
- American Lung Association in Oregon, http://www.lungoregon.org/disease/index.html
- Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pulmonary-embolism/DS00429
- Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, http://www.pulmonaryfibrosis.org/education