Breathing Problems Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment | Narayana Health

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Breathing Problems:

Treatment, prevention, symptoms and risks



Understanding the respiratory system

Respiratory system

Your body needs oxygen to function, and the cells are responsible for making oxygen. The respiratory system is responsible for supplying fresh oxygen to the blood, which is distributed to the body's tissues. The inhalation process is when oxygen is brought into your body, and exhalation is when carbon dioxide is sent out of the body. The exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is known as respiration. The respiratory system consists of your nose, mouth, voice box, throat, lungs, and windpipe.

When you breathe through your nose or your mouth, air enters your respiratory system. When you are breathing through your nose, the air is humidified and warmed. Cilia, which are hairs in your nostrils, help filter out dust particles to ensure that only good air can filter through so you breathe in clean air. This filtering process continues as the air flows down through the pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi to the lungs. In the lungs, there are smaller tubes called bronchioles which have alveoli. The alveoli are where the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange takes place.

The windpipe, which is also called the trachea, have cilia like the nostrils. These help to keep foreign dust particles away to ensure the lungs are supplied with only clean air. The lungs are covered in pleura, which provides a thin lining. Along with these, there are elastic tissues that are present in the lungs, which ensures that the lungs don't lose their shape when they inflate and deflate during the breathing process. The lungs are protected by the chest wall that forms a cage around them to ensure they stay safe.

When you breathe, the alveoli fill with air. Through the process of diffusion, capillaries enable oxygen to move from the alveoli to the blood. When oxygen is in the blood, hemoglobin picks it up. Hemoglobin is a part of red blood cells; this results in oxygen-rich blood. It flows to the heart, after which it is transported to all the tissues that require oxygen-rich blood. Body tissues have tiny capillaries, and when oxygen is released from the hemoglobin, it moves into the cells. The carbon dioxide then moves out from the cells and into the capillaries.

The carbon dioxide that comes out dissolves in plasma. This blood is then sent to the lungs from the heart. This is when the carbon dioxide is sent to the alveoli so that it can be exhaled. This entire process continues every time you inhale and exhale.



Types of respiratory diseases


Asthma is one of the diseases that affect the airways. It is called a long-term disease of the lungs and is termed as a chronic respiratory disease. Asthma causes breathing problem because your airways become narrow due to inflammation. For some people with chronic asthma, it can be difficult to talk or lead an active life.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is commonly known as COPD. It is another long-term lung disease that is one of the main breathing problem causes. People who have either one or more types of the following conditions are said to have COPD. The conditions are chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or refractory asthma.


A type of COPD, emphysema is a chronic respiratory disease. Here, air pockets are formed in the lungs whereby air is blocked inside these pockets. This is caused due to destruction of tissues that are found in the air sacs. This causes the lungs to become bigger and it leads to difficulty in breathing; another term used for emphysema is airflow limitation.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is when the air tubes in the lungs get inflamed and irritated. In chronic bronchitis, you can be coughing for at least three months or even up to 2 years. Chronic bronchitis is another long-term respiratory illness that can be recurring and doesn’t just go away. It is one of the types of COPD.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic condition. When mucus forms in the bronchi, it should be cleared so that there are no Breathing Problems. However, when this does not happen, it can lead to a build-up of mucus in the bronchi which causes cystic fibrosis. In this condition, you will be prone to lung infections, repeatedly.


Pneumonia is caused when the air sacs in the lungs are filled with either pus or fluid. This causes breathing difficulties because insufficient oxygen is present in your blood. It is called a lung infection, which can be severe or mild. Young children who are less than two, and the elderly, are most likely to have this infection.


Tuberculosis also known as TB, and it affects your lungs. Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria known as Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. It is a contagious disease and it can easily spread to various parts of the body, such as the spine. There are two forms of TB called active TB and latent TB.

Pulmonary Oedema

Pulmonary oedema occurs due to fluid leakage. Many small blood vessels can be found in the lung. When the fluid leaks from these vessels and goes into the air sacs and areas that are close-by, then it is called pulmonary oedema. This can be caused due to lung injury or due to heart failure.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can develop in any area of your lungs. Normal lung cells perform many functions and help build lung tissues. In lung cancer, abnormal cells grow rapidly in one or both of your lungs. These abnormal cells do not perform any functions of normal lung cells. It usually develops near the air sac area or inside the air sacs.

Interstitial Lung Disease

Interstitial lung disease is commonly known as ILD. It is an umbrella term used to describe several types of lung conditions. ILD affects the interstitium by causing it to thicken. This can be due to a buildup of fluid, inflammation, or scarring. ILD can be short-term or long-term. There are various types of ILD including hypersensitivity pneumonitis and cryptogenic organizing pneumonia.



Symptoms of respiratory diseases

Symptoms of respiratory diseases

While some of the early symptoms of respiratory diseases might seem normal, you should pay attention nonetheless. The following are some of the warning signals of respiratory problems.

  • Wheezing is one of the common signs of respiratory-related problems. It can mean something is blocking air from passing smoothly.
  • When you experience chest pain frequently, then it can indicate a respiratory problem. If you feel like the chest pain gets worse when you cough or breathe, then it is a warning sign.
  • If you have any breathing problem symptoms such as being unable to breathe properly or finding it difficult to breathe, then you might have a respiratory disease.
  • When you cough up blood then it is an indication of lung disorder or respiratory disease. The blood can be from the upper respiratory tract or your lungs.
  • Chronic cough signals respiratory problems. When you cough for a month or longer then it means you have chronic cough and it means you have a respiratory system problem.
  • When there is too much of mucus production taking place then it means you might have a lung disease.
  • If you experience any of these symptoms, then you should consult your doctor immediately because it means you probably have some form of lung infection or respiratory disease.



Risk factors for respiratory diseases

The following are some of the risk factors for respiratory disease.

  • Long-term cigarette smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for lung-related problems and respiratory disease.
  • Household chemical cleaners can be one of the risk factors of respiratory disease.
  • Some types of respiratory equipment can increase the risk of respiratory problems as there is a chance of breathing in dust along with air.
  • Houseplants can increase the risk of respiratory disease
  • When there is poor air circulation, then there is a higher chance that you will have a respiratory problem.
  • Mould and mildew in the bathroom can increase the risk of respiratory system problems.
  • Aerosol products can further aggravate mild symptoms in people and can increase the risk of lung problems.
  • Asbestos and radon gas are risk factors and can lead to respiratory problems.
  • Wherever there is an accumulation of fumes, it can increase the chances of respiration-related health problems.
  • Fireplaces can increase the risk of developing respiratory problems.
  • Dust and dirt accumulation can cause many people to have respiratory-related problems and can lead to lung problems too.



Diagnosis of respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases can be diagnosed using one or more of the following methods.

Lung function tests are known as pulmonary function tests too. These help to determine whether your lungs are working optimally or not. They help to see how well air movement is taking place, how much air the lungs can hold, and how efficiently the lungs can move the oxygen into the bloodstream. There are various types of lung function tests such as lung volume test, exercise stress test, spirometry, and gas diffusion test.

A chest x-ray is a type of imaging test. It makes use of electromagnetic waves to create images of the area inside and outside your chest. Chest x-rays are used to diagnose lung and respiratory conditions such as lung cancer, fibrosis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. They can be used for monitoring conditions and can be used after surgeries too.

Chest MRI is also known as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance test. This is an imaging test which makes use of a computer, radio waves, and magnets to create images that show details of your chest. It shows a detailed view of your heart, blood vessels, and chest wall. Chest MRI can be done after CT scans and chest X-rays. It helps to diagnose various types of lung problems such as blood vessel problems and pleural disorder.

Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH) Isoenzymes Test is a test used to measure the level of isoenzymes that are present in your blood. The LDH test is used to determine information about tissue damage. It helps to find the type of tissue damage that has occurred, the location of the tissue damage, and the severity of the tissue damage.

Bronchoscopy is one of the tests that are used to determine the cause of the lung problem. It helps take a look into the lung’s airways by inserting a bronchoscope tube through your mouth or nose. Bronchoscopy can help diagnose mucus in the airways, blockages, and bleeding in the lungs. It can determine signs of infection and can help detect tumours as well. A chest x-ray might be done after bronchoscopy.

Needle biopsy of the lung is required when imaging tests are unable to reach certain nodules in the lung. Needle biopsy is a test that takes a tissue sample from the lung that can then be examined under a microscope. It is considered a less invasive procedure than a surgical biopsy and it helps determine whether a nodule is cancerous or non-cancerous.



Preventing respiratory disease

You may not think much about your lungs but if you want to prevent respiratory disease then you need to make some positive changes. While some things might be out of your control, there are still many changes that can be made to ensure good lung health. You need to prioritize your lung’s health to ensure your lungs are functioning optimally at all times. One of the easiest ways to do this is to exercise regularly. Keeping fit ensures your lungs are healthy and it reduces the risk of developing respiratory disease.

If you smoke, then it is time to quit. Smoking is one of the major causes of respiratory diseases such as COPD and lung cancer. Smoking causes the air passages to become narrow which in turn causes Breathing Problems. It can lead to various other problems including damaging the tissues in your lungs. Quitting smoking can help you reduce the risk and save your lungs from damage. Another way to prevent respiratory disease is to minimize air pollution outdoors because sometimes the air pollution outdoors can cause respiratory problems.

You can prevent infection from taking place in many ways. You should avoid going to places that are likely to be crowded, especially during the flu season. You should stay away from other people when you are not feeling well so that others are protected. You should maintain good oral hygiene. Washing your hands often will protect you from infections. You should speak to your doctor about vaccinations that can help protect you from respiratory infections. He will take a look at your history and then determine if that is the right course of action to be taken.

You should keep away from irritants that can trigger respiratory problems in you. If there are specific types of chemicals that cause a response and cause respiratory problems then it is best to avoid them. You can either have someone else handle them or you should look for safe alternative. Sometimes symptoms of the respiratory disease don’t show, which is why getting regular health checkups is a good idea for you. It can help detect any problems in its initial stages which can help with treatment.



Natural treatments and home remedies

Natural treatments and home remedies for respiratory disease

Many believe that exercise is not a treatment option for people with lung disease. But that is a myth. Exercise helps you manage lung disease better even when you have chronic lung disease. Exercise can help reduce any shortness of breath. The reason is that it helps improve muscles and your heart. Regular exercise helps you relax, increases your energy levels, improves your bone intensity, improves endurance, and helps improve your immune system. This can be beneficial to your lungs and overall health because it helps you live a better life.

Proper diet can help in the treatment of symptoms of respiratory diseases too. You need to choose healthy foods that help heal your body. This helps your body become better equipped to fight infections and maintain a healthy body weight. . You should eat three servings of whole-grain foods. You should increase the intake of vegetables and fruits as this can help improve your overall health. You should take care of how much you eat. Instead of taking seconds, you can replace that with a serving of fruit.

Breathing techniques are one of breathing problem solutions. You have to be able to relax because stress can cause changes in your breathing pattern. If you have a lung disease then it means that you are unable to relax. There are ways in which you can control the way in which you breathe so that you are relaxed and stress-free. Some of the techniques that you can try are visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, and diaphragmatic breathing. You can try to meditate for 10 minutes a day for relaxation too.

You can try pulmonary rehabilitation if you have cystic fibrosis, COPD, or ILD. It helps you better cope with the disease. There are various aspects of pulmonary rehabilitation and your healthcare providers will help create the right plan for you. It includes breathing strategies, nutritional counselling, group support, and exercise training. PR also includes techniques that can help you save energy. You are given thorough knowledge about your disease and how you can manage it.



Respiratory Disease FAQs: All your concerns addressed

Q.   Getting older and having breathing difficulties is normal according to many people. Is this correct?

  1. While aging can cause various health problems, it is important that you don’t ignore anything regardless of how mild it may seem at the time. Breathing difficulties, even when you perform a small task, may seem normal as you get older but it can be a sign of something bigger. You have to pay close attention to the signs of any type of respiratory problem that you are having. It is better to be safe than sorry because mild symptoms can mean you have a lung infection or disease too. Moreover, it will be easier to treat in the early stages if you do have a lung-related problem.

Q.   What are the types of lung diseases?

  1. The lung and respiratory diseases are categorized into three groups; airway diseases, lung circulation diseases, and lung tissue diseases. The airway diseases are the ones that are caused due to conditions that affect the airways. These include COPD, asthma, and bronchiectasis. Lung circulation diseases affect lungs’ blood vessels as they hamper the ability to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. An example of such conditions are pulmonary hypertension. Lung tissue diseases affect the structure of the tissues found in the lungs and an example is sarcoidosis.

Q.   I work in a hazardous environment. Do respirators offer protection? And when can they be used?

  1. Yes, the respirators offer protection when you are working in an environment that can cause damage to your respiratory system. There are various types of respirators such as approved filtering facepieces, loose-fitting powered-air-purifying respirators, half-face respirators, full-face respirators, and single-strap dust masks. There are two factors that need to be considered when selecting respirators; the protection factor and the gases that you are exposed to. Training should be provided to you before use to ensure that you are able to use the respirator optimally.

Q.   How can I eliminate irritants at home to ensure no one in my family suffers from respiratory disease?

  1. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate irritants, you can take some measures so that your home is free of irritants. The following are some tips to help you get started.
  • You should ensure there is proper air circulation in your home. You can do this by opening all the doors at your home.
  • If you use a fireplace then make sure you don’t burn charcoal or paper. You should make sure the damper is open and the chimney is clean.
  • Don’t smoke in your house and ensure that other people don’t smoke in your house either. If someone must smoke, then make sure they do so outside the home.
  • You should clean your appliances periodically so that there is no accumulation of dust anywhere including air conditioner filters.
  • If mould is an irritant then make sure that you ensure plants are in an enclosed terrarium and you don’t sit frequently next to bushes or trees.
  • For many people, aerosol products can be major irritants. If that is the case, then look for an alternative.
  • You should frequently clean your fans so that there is no dust accumulation on them. Similarly, make sure there are no pungent odours on your furniture as they can be irritants.

Q.   What are the treatment options for respiratory diseases?

  1. There are various treatment options available for people with lung and respiratory diseases. The treatment depends on the lung problem that you are suffering from. Chest Tube Thoracostomy is one of the treatments used to drain fluid, air or blood from the pleural space. This is used in lung infection, breathing difficulty caused due to fluid buildup, a collapsed lung, lung cancer, or pneumonia. Another popular treatment is pulmonary lobectomy in which a lobe is removed. This can be due to lung cancer or COPD among other reasons.

Q.   Are there any medications that can be used for quick-relief?

  1. Anticholinergics help find relief from lung disease and they can be used for asthma. Oral steroids are given to treat lung disease symptoms and can help people with severe asthma. Short-acting beta-agonists are used for relaxing the smooth muscles around the airways. Inhaled steroids are sometimes given to people. Quick-relief medications help you to breathe easily and can start to be effective within a few minutes. Your doctor will help you determine the best medication for your situation.

Q.   What are long-term control medications for lung diseases?

  1. Long-term control medications help prevent lung disease symptoms and need to be taken daily in order to control the symptoms arising from lung diseases. Combination medications can be prescribed as these help improve lung function. Leukotriene modifiers can be prescribed for people who suffer from asthma attacks. These help to improve symptoms arising due to asthma. Theophylline can be prescribed as a long-term asthma control medication. Anti-IgE can be prescribed for people who suffer from chronic asthma. Other options include inhaled steroids.

Q.   How to tackle breathlessness, at home?

  1. Shortness of breath can be an uncomfortable feeling as it does not allow the person to get air in their lungs. Here are some ways you can tackle breathlessness at home- Pursed-lip breathing: this exercise will help release any air that is trapped in the lungs and help you slow your pace of breathing. All you have to do in inhale through your nose while keeping your mouth closed, purse your lips, and slowly exhale through your mouth; remember to inhale for two counts and exhale for four counts. Sitting forward: sit on a chair, keep your feet flat on the floor, lean your chest forward too. Gently rest your elbows on your knees and hold your chin in your hands, while keeping your shoulder and neck relaxed. Keep breathing, at a slow pace. If the breathlessness gets worse over time, it’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

Q.   What are the causes of breathing problems?

  1. Causes of breathing problems include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, pneumothorax, lung cancer, inhalation injury, anxiety, high altitudes that have low oxygen levels, congestive heart failure, allergic reactions, interstitial lung diseases, and so on.

Q.   How to ensure that your lungs are hydrated?

  1. If you want to get the most out of your airway techniques, you must keep your body hydrated. Humidification can help with breathlessness because it moistens the air you breathe. You can try steam inhalations to moisten your airways; try adding menthol oils to hot water because they can help open your airways even better.

Q.   Can stress lead to breathing problems?

  1. Stress can cause shortness of breath and make it worse. When you are in an anxious state, the chest muscles will begin to constrict, and this will cause difficulty in breathing. Since the muscles are tired, the breathlessness will cause an increase in stress as well. If you are experiencing breathing problems because of an anxiety attack, focusing on your breathing may be your last thought. However, focusing on your breathing is crucial because it allows your lungs to fill with oxygen and clear your mind as well.

    Experts suggest that you focus on diaphragmatic breathing because it can help with the following-

    • Slow your breathing pace
    • Decrease the demand for oxygen
    • Makes use of less energy and effort to breathe

Q.   Which supplements can help with lung health?

  1. If you want to strengthen your lung health then vitamin E and C are the suitable supplements for you. Experts say that vitamins E, C, and also A, help combat oxidative stress in the lungs that can eventually lead to COPD.



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