The human lungs are a pair of organs located on either side of the chest, within the ribcage. They are spongy and air-filled complex organs that are an integral part of our respiratory system. They consist of tubular branches, called bronchi, which further branch into smaller sub-divisions that are called Bronchiole. These branches and sub-branches distribute the oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide during respiration. The oxygen received by the lungs is supplied to every part of our body through the blood, and carbon dioxide is taken back for its removal through exhalation.
This constitutes the process of respiration. Lungs also purify the air we breathe and remove unwanted components like dust, smoke, bacteria, pollen, etc., through their own defence system. So, in order to respire properly without any disruption, it is crucial for humans to maintain the health of the lungs. Overlooking even minor signs of lung problems can prove to be fatal, so it is important that lung disease tests are done to diagnose lung diseases.
Lung diseases are classified as the most common medical condition affecting people all around the world. From lifestyle habits to infections to genetics, there could be multiple factors responsible for lung diseases. Any obstruction in the respiratory system can be a cause of lung disease, sometimes even resulting in respiratory failure.
Cases of lung diseases are rising due to the ever-decreasing quality of the air we breathe in. Also, some lung diseases are present at the time of birth (congenital) while some develop over the course of life. Though numerous conditions fall under the broad category of lung diseases, here are some of the major types:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Signs and Symptoms of Lung Diseases
Depending on the actual disease and its cause, a person may complain of different symptoms due to abnormality in the breathing process. Signs and symptoms of lung diseases may also vary from person to person and may appear rapidly (acute) or take some time to develop (chronic). Some symptoms may also come and go or change over time. While different lung diseases have different symptoms, some common lung disease symptoms may include:
- Pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Coughing out sputum, blood or mucus
- Difficulty breathing or laboured breathing
- Gasping air for breathing
- Bluish colouration of skin due to deficiency of oxygen
It is crucial to get proper lung disease tests done so that proper treatment and medications can be started.
Diagnosis of Lung Diseases
Signs of lung problems may be difficult to identify in earlier stages, but regular check-ups can help people to diagnose lung disease symptoms before it gets severe. Tests for lung health are done to screen high-risk patients and diagnose any abnormality in symptomatic patients. Most commonly, blood tests are done to evaluate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, along with lung or pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to determine the health of your lungs. A few lab tests that are done as part of the screening and diagnosis process for lung diseases include:
- Blood gases (blood pH, oxygen and carbon dioxide)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)
- CF gene mutation testing
- Stool trypsin
- Sweat chloride
- Immunoreactive trypsin (IRT)
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin
- Allergy tests
- Pleural fluid analysis
- Bacterial sputum culture and Gram stain
- Blood culture
- AFB testing
- Influenza tests
- Fungal tests
- Legionella tests
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Mycoplasma tests
- Autoantibodies tests like antinuclear antibodies (ANA), Anti-ds DNA and Extractable nuclear antigen (ENA) panel
- Lung biopsy
- Sputum cytology
In addition to these, several other lung diseases tests like chest x-ray, CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, nuclear lung scanning, PET scan, Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG), sleep studies, etc., may also be performed to identify any abnormality in the lung and its cause, to provide the right treatment.
Why Is Timely Screening and Diagnosis Vital?
The instances of lung diseases are increasing globally, but many of them can be prevented or managed, provided they receive the right treatment at the right time. Identifying lung disease symptoms is important in order to start the right treatment. This is especially useful for those who are at high risk of developing lung diseases due to the presence of one or more risk factors. These factors include excessive smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, exposure to certain chemicals, fumes, dust, etc. Apart from these, other factors, such as family history, lifestyle habits, etc., can also increase the risk of lung disease.
Keeping a check on your body and regularly monitoring your blood levels for any abnormality is the key to healthy lungs and healthy living. Make sure you get screened periodically to know the status of your lungs and take necessary steps or medicines to prevent further damage to this vital organ.
Treatment of Lung Diseases
Different lung diseases and conditions may require different or multiple treatments. Apart from this, the treatment of lung diseases may also depend upon the severity of the signs of lung problems. Here are some of the proven treatments and therapies that may improve the quality of life along with easing the respiratory process:
In this therapy, the damage or condition cannot be reversed or repaired but it can:
- Make the respiratory process easier
- May prevent or lessen the difficulties caused due to low oxygen levels
- Stabilise the blood pressure
- Improve sleeping conditions
Oxygen therapy can be used around-the-clock while some may use it while sleeping or exercising.
Apart from oxygen therapy, some may prefer going for pulmonary rehabilitation where people with lung disease are made to exercise to have improved endurance, they are taught breathing techniques.
As mentioned earlier, the early diagnosis of lung disease symptoms is important. Some people may opt for lung transplantation, in case other treatments do not work.