One in five deaths in Ireland is as a result of lung disease, according to the Irish Lung Health Alliance. Ireland experiences 5,500 deaths per year and over a third of all acute hospital admittances are from lung related conditions and concerns. Millions of people suffer from lung disease, causative factors include, smoking, infections, genetics and respiratory conditions.

The lungs are a complex apparatus, expanding and relaxing thousands of times per day, inhaling and expelling carbon dioxide, and lung disease can stem from any part of this complex system.

Lung Disease Affecting the Airways

  • Asthma: A common disease characterized by the inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and persistent cough. Asthma may manifest at any age and affects both children and adults of all ages.
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease): Is a lung disease that makes it hard to empty air out of your lungs. This happens as the airways get smaller leading to airflow obstruction, this may result in shortness of breath and fatigue as you are working harder to breathe.
  • Cystic Fibrosis: Cystic Fibrosis is Ireland’s most commonly inherited genetic disease. Primarily affecting the respiratory and digestive systems in children and young adults, CF causes the production of thick, sticky mucus that clogs the air passages of the lungs, creating persistent infections and permanent lung damage due to scarring.
  • Emphysema: Lung damage as a result of COPD allows air to become trapped in the lungs, making it difficult to exhale.

Lung Disease Affecting the Air Sacs (Alveoli)

The airways of the lungs branch into tiny tubes (bronchioles) that form a cluster of air sacs called alveoli at the end. These tiny air sacs make up most of the lung tissue, lung diseases affecting the alveoli include:

  • Pneumona: A bacterial infection of the alveoli.
  • Tuberculosis: A slow acting progressive pneumonia caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria.
  • Pulmonary Edema: Either through heart failure and back pressure in the lungs blood vessels to a direct injury to the lung, Pulmonary Edema is when fluid leaks out of the small blood vessels of the lung into the air sacs and surrounding area.
  • Lung Cancer: Can develop in any part of the lungs and in many different forms, Lung Cancer is most commonly located in the main part of lung or in or near the air sacs. The location, type and spread will determine the treatment options.
  • Pneumoconiosis: An umbrella of conditions caused by the inhalation of a substance such as asbestos or black lung disease from the inhalation of coal dust.

Lung Disease Affecting the Intestitium

The interstitium is a microscopically thin, fragile lining placed between the lung’s air sacs (alveoli). Tiny blood vessels run throughout the interstitium and enables gas exchange between the alveoli and the blood. Lung diseases that affect the interstitium include:

  • ILD (Interstitial lung disease): A collection of lung conditions that affect the interstitium such as Sarcoidosis, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Autoimmune Disease.
  • Pneumonias and Pulmonary Edemas may also affect the interstitium.

Lung Disease Affecting Blood Vessels

As the right side of the heart receives low-oxygen blood from the veins, it then pumps blood into the lungs via the pulmonary arteries. The pulmonary arteries suffer from disease such as:

  • Pulmonary Embolism (PE): Blood clots usually via a deep leg vein thrombosis, can break off and travel to the heart and is pumped into the lungs. This clot may lodge in a pulmonary artery, causing shortness of breath and decreased blood oxygen levels.
  • Pulmonary Hypertension: Many conditions can result in high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. Presenting as shortness of breath and chest pain, if no cause is identified the condition is termed Idiopathic Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension.

Lung Disease Affecting the Pleura

The pleura is the thin lining that surrounds the lung and lines the inside of the chest wall. With a thin layer of fluid allowing the pleura to slide along the chest wall with each breath, lung diseases of the pleura include:

  • Pleural effusion: As fluid collects in the tiny pleura space between the chest wall and lung, it can impair breathing and needs to be drained. Heart failure or Pneumonia is usually responsible for Pleural Effusion.
  • Pneumothorax: If air enters the space between the lung and the chest wall, it causes the lungs to collapse. To remove the air, a tube may be inserted through the chest wall for relief.
  • Mesothelioma: An extremely rare form of cancer that develops on the pleura, Mesothelioma usually presents several decades after exposure to asbestos.

Lung Disease Affecting the Chest Wall

The chest wall plays a vital role in breathing, muscles connect the ribs to each other, enabling the chest to expand, as the diaphragm descends with each breath in. Lung disease affecting the chest wall include:

  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome: The additional weight on the chest and around the abdomen can make it difficult for the chest to expand, resulting in serious breathing issues.
  • Neuromuscular Disorders: Neuromuscular lung diseases such as Amytrophic lateral sclerosis and Myasthenia Gravis feature impaired nerve function that normally controls the respiratory muscles causing serious breathing difficulties.

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22nd Mar 2018

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