Respiratory System Diseases

Dozens of diseases of human respiratory system have been afflicting mankind throughout the globe which are caused mainly by microbes, like bacteria, viruses, and other disease causing agents. Many of such disorders have either very low recovery rate or no treatment at all and can be best avoided by adopting preventive measures. Some of the well-known and critical illnesses of lungs are listed as under:


A chronic, incurable and life-long disease that can make your life unbearable, but you can manage it and live a healthy life if you have proper understanding of the critical aspects of the disease. The symptoms include suffocation, rapid and difficult breathing, and coughing with clear, green or yellow sputum. Treatment is usually carried out with the use of inhaled corticosteroids and oral bronchodilator drugs, such as long acting theophylline.


A chronic, inflammatory, fibrotic, incurable and killing occupational lung disorder caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. The symptoms of the disease may take even decades before they are revealed which include hypoxia, cough, chest pain & tightness, loss of appetite and so on. It can be effectively managed by oxygen therapy, physiotherapy and nebulized medications, etc.

Acute Bronchitis

A curable inflammatory infection of bronchial tubes, major airways in lungs, lasting up to 10 days. The causative agents include inhaled bacteria, viruses or other irritants. Symptoms are deep cough with yellow, green or grayish sputum, fever and shortness of breath. Excessive intake of clean water, use of antibiotics and other medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen may be prescribed as treatment methods.

Chronic Bronchitis

A type of COPD, incurable, long-lasting and life-threatening illness of lungs caused by smoking and industrial dust. Obvious symptomatic conditions include chest infections, wheezing and mucus producing cough. Use of bronchodilator, inhaled steroids, antibiotics, and drinking plenty of fluids may be very helpful.


A type of COPD, incurable sickness characterized by destruction of lung tissue and irreversible enlargement of alveoli causing barrel-chested posture in the victim. Difficulty in breathing, cough, fatigue and weight-loss are some of the common symptoms. Quitting smoking, use of bronchodilator and supplemental oxygen may relieve the severe symptoms to a greater extent.


Characterized by the sudden failure of respiratory system, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is an incurable and life-threatening disorder. The symptoms include breathing difficulty, fever, low blood pressure, fatigue and so on. For treatment, patient has to be kept in ICU at hospital with supplemental oxygen, IV fluid injection and medications.


A very rare lung disorder of alveoli and bronchioles, Bronchitis Obliterans Organizing Pneumonia results in persistent and troubling cough, fever, fatigue and shortness of breath. The diagnosis is usually carried out by chest CT scan, chest X-ray and lung biopsy. Treatment is a very long-term process during which high doses of corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs are given to the patient.


Originally known as Chronic Lung Disease of Infancy, Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia causes inflammation and scarring in the lungs of babies who are born premature and need to be kept on breathing machine for their survival. Its symptoms include rapid, shallow breathing, appearance of blue color on nails and lips, coughing and sucked-in ribs. The treatment is carried out in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) where baby is kept for a duration ranging from several weeks to a few months.


An occupational lung disorder, also called “Brown Lung Disease”, is caused by inhaling flax, hemp or cotton dust. Prominent diagnostic signs include cough, wheezing and chest tightness. The symptoms start disappearing as soon as the patient avoids exposure to the causative agents. Treatment methodologies include bronchodilator, corticosteroids and oxygen therapy.


An incurable but easily manageable chronic lung condition that damages bronchial tubes with obvious signs of persistent cough, difficulty in breathing, respiratory infection and weight loss. Use of antibiotics, quitting smoking and drinking plenty of fluids include the treatment measures to restore your life to normality.


Usually limited to the Americas, it is caused by inhaling spores of fungus and is manifested by weakness, rash, chest pain, cough and fever. For treatment, rest, drug administration and even lung surgery may be advised by the physician depending upon the intensity of the disease.

Cystic Fibrosis

Severely inflicts not only lungs, but also intestine, liver and pancreas that may lead to the cessation of breathing and complete failure of other organs. This hereditary disorder may shorten your life expectancy but timely treatment will improve quality of life and extend lifespan. The signs, like very saline skin, greasy stool, cough and excessive appetite can be relieved by antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicines and drug inhalation by nebulizer.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Potentially fatal, infectious disease in the Americas that is transmitted to humans when they come in contact with infected rodents or their waste. HPS expresses itself through fever, cough, muscle pain, fatigue and shortness of breath which develop after 1 to 5 weeks of the exposure to the causative agents. There is no particular cure or treatment for the disease, but keeping the patient in ICU may improve their chances of recovery.


Also called “Ohio Valley Disease”, caused by inhaling spores of fungus, is seldom serious, but rare chronic form may resemble tuberculosis. The patients suffering from AIDS or cancer are more susceptible to Darling’s disease which manifests itself through fever, chest pain and cough without mucus. Treatment for mild cases is usually not needed but severe sickness can be effectively cured with antifungal medications.


Contagious lung disease that can attack any part of the body. Major symptoms include fever, cough, night sweat, fatigue and loss of weight which have effective cure but, if delayed, may lead to death. Isoniazid may be prescribed for mild TB infection and active TB disease requires 6 to 12 month of treatment with a combination of drugs.


A serious respiratory disease caused by RNA viruses and detected by high fever, headache, dry cough, nasal congestion, sore throat and coughing up blood. Oseltamivir and zanamivir are the most commonly prescribed antiviral drugs that, if administered within 1 to 2 days of attack, considerably reduce the symptoms of flu.

Lung Cancer

A fatal disease of lungs characterized by the uncontrolled growth of infected cells that can spread to any other part of body, and has the most obvious symptoms of coughing up blood, weight loss, difficulty in breathing, and so on. Computed tomography, chest radiograph and biopsy are used to assist accurate diagnosis. Depending upon the type of cancerous cells, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery and palliative care are the frequently used methods of treatment.


Uncommon malignancy of epithelial tissues lining internal organs of body like lungs and heart that is usually caused by exposure to and inhalation of asbestos fibers. Pain under rib cage, fever, anemia, persistent cough and shortness of breath are the dominant symptoms which can be eliminated by surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or the combination of these.


An incurable malady occurring with two major types (Simple &Complex), it is an occupational lung disease common among miners who inhale coal dust. The symptomatic conditions of black lung disease are shortness of breath and persistent cough which can be diagnosed through chest X-ray, pulmonary function tests and occupational history. Though there are no treatment methods available, the symptoms can be reduced through medication.


Caused by bacteria, fungi, virus and other microorganisms, it varies in intensity from mild to severe or fatal symptoms which include cough, fever, excessive sweating, shortness of breath and headache. A number of treatment methods are available that are applied with respect to the type and severity of the case including cough medicine, antiviral drugs and antibiotics.

Sleep Apnea

The most common type of sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing, loud snort, chocking breathing and abruptly waking from sleep. Depending upon the type and severity of the disorder, appropriate treatment measures are suggested by the healthcare provider that include Adjustable Airway Pressure, CPAP, surgery and oxygen therapy.


With no obvious causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome occurs in children below 1 year of age who, after putting to bed, are found dead without any sign of suffering. SIDS can be identified by performing autopsy, death scene investigation and family medical history, and such a death of baby can only be avoided through preventive measures.


A type of pneumoconiosis and caused by the inhalation of silicon dust, the occupational lung disease is marked by scarring and inflammation in upper parts of lungs. Severe symptoms, like difficulty in breathing, bluish skin, fever, weakness and cough, can be cured by cough medication, bronchodilator, antibiotics and supplemental oxygen.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

A contagious viral disease that quickly spread and claimed hundreds of lives worldwide in 2003, is characterized by high fever, dry cough, diarrhea and headache. Severe symptoms of SARS can be relieved by fever & cough medication, supplemental oxygen and bronchodilator.

Pulmonary Vascular Disease

An umbrella term for a number of blood circulatory disorders in lungs including blood clot, pulmonary hypertension (PH), pulmonary edema, arterio-venous malfunctions and so on. PH refers to the development of elevated pressure in pulmonary arteries due to some unknown causes leading to abnormal conditions, like fainting, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

As the very name indicates, it is characterized by an incurable stiffening and scarring of deep lung tissues, and the victim, after confirmed diagnosis, can live not more than 3 to 5 years. The obvious symptoms include dry, hacking cough, tiredness, clubbing and shortness of breath which can be checked and relieved and controlled through medication, supplemental oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplant.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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