Understanding and Managing Lung Disease

Understanding and Managing Lung Disease

There are many different types of lung diseases. Some of the more common ones are: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, infections such as influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, obstructive sleep apnea and many others. Sleep apnea is when people have periods where they are not breathing during their sleep cycle. People with sleep apnea often snore. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. 


While each disease will have its own characteristics, there are signs and symptoms commonly found in people with lung diseases. These include: 

  • Persistent cough.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Wheezing or gasping.
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (mucous).
  • Chest pain that is worse when inhaling or taking in a breath.
  • Choking or coughing after eating or drinking.


How Is Lung Disease Treated and Managed?

The goals of lung disease treatments are: 

  • Prevent the disease wherever possible (quit smoking and avoid irritants/asthma triggers, aspiration or choking).
  • Treat chest infections.
  • Treat lung disease to stop or slow the progression of lung damage.
  • Relieve symptoms and ease breathing, sometimes requiring inhalers or oxygen.


If lung disease is not well managed, it can lead to permanent lung damage. 


What Should I Be Alert For?

  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (which is an emergency).
  • Bluish-coloring around a person’s lips or fingers.
  • More rapid breathing than usual (more breaths per minute).
  • Noisy breathing.
  • Inability to participate in exercise or activities due to breathing problems.
  • Breathing difficulty can be very frightening. Anytime a person has a sudden change in their breathing, they should be seen by a doctor immediately.


Medication side effects: If a person is taking medication for lung disease, ask the pharmacist or doctor about potential side effects of the medication and what you should look for or report. Medications to assist people with breathing problems are more effective when taken exactly as prescribed.


What Are Some Tips for Managing Lung Disease?

  • Make sure people with lung disease receive influenza and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Understand the correct use of inhalers, nebulizers and oxygen equipment.
  • Help the person to conserve energy. An occupational therapist could be very helpful with this.
  • Help the person alternate periods of activity with rest periods.
  • Encourage eating slowly, taking small bites of food and small sips of drink to avoid aspiration and choking.