Diseases That Affect the Airways


Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that causes difficulty breathing. Asthma creates inflammation in the air passages that result in a momentary narrowing of the airways that transport oxygen to the lungs. The airways gradually become inflamed, and may occasionally spasm, which can result in wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma have attacks divided by symptom-free periods. Some people have continuing shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. An asthma attack can last for minutes to days at a time; which can grow to be dangerous if the airflow is severely limited.


The most common symptoms of asthma are a cough with or without phlegm production, tightening of the skin between the ribs when breathing, shortness of breath that worsens with exercise or activity and wheezing.


Since inflammation of the lungs and airways plays an important role in asthma, the most effective medications for lasting control have anti-inflammatory results. The most successful anti-inflammatory medications for controlling asthma are inhaled corticosteroids. Used as directed, these medications can improve asthma control, regulate lung function, and possibly prevent permanent injury to lung airways; commonly a single dose taken daily is enough to control asthma.

Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the lung airways. When the airways are inflamed and/or infected, a reduced amount of air is able to flow to and from the lungs and you cough up heavy mucus or phlegm. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis can go along with a cold and clears up after a week or two. Chronic bronchitis is classified form of COPD characterized by a chronic productive cough. Chronic bronchitis causes a mucus-producing cough the majority of the time and after a long period of irritation the airways then create an ideal place for infections.


Chronic bronchitis causes excessive mucus production, thickening of the airway linings, an ongoing cough develops; which may result in hindered airflow resulting in scarring of the lungs.


There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. The purpose of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent problems. Any respiratory irritants should be avoided. Inhaled medications that widen the airways and reduce inflammation may help lessen symptoms. Corticosteroids may sporadically be used during flare-ups of wheezing or in people with severe bronchitis that is unresponsive to other treatments. Oxygen therapy may be needed in more severe cases, and in extremely severe cases, a lung transplant may be suggested.


Emphysema occurs when the air sacs in the lungs are progressively destroyed, causing shortness of breath. Emphysema turns the air sacs into large, irregular pockets with wide holes in the inner walls. This decreases the surface area of the lungs and, which reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream. This will slowly destroy the flexible fibers that hold open the small airways leading to the air sacs. This will cause the airways to collapse when exhaling, so air in the lungs can't escape.


Cough and coughing up phlegm are the general symptoms. Patients can also experience shortness of breath after physical activity and wheezing. Eventually, difficulty breathing when lying down may become troublesome. Unintentional weight loss and muscle weakening is also a common occurrence.


Bronchi-dilating medications, which allow the air passages to open more completely and generate better air exchange, are usually the first medications prescribed. In mild cases, bronchodilators may be used for episodes of shortness of breath. Steroid medications decrease inflammation in the body, and are used for this cause within the lungs. These steroids may either be given orally or inhaler. Unfortunately, not all people will respond to steroid treatments. Antibiotic medications are often for people who have increased shortness of breath, people treated with antibiotics are more likely to experience fewer occurrences of shortness of breath. Oxygen may be necessary to relieve shortness of breath. It may be necessary to receive oxygen at home as well. There are home-based oxygen tanks available in addition to transportable units that assist in day-to-day activities.

Health Resources