Most Common Lung Problems: A complete guide


You can get the virus that causes colds from a sick person’s cough or sneeze. It brings on a runny nose, sneezing, and sometimes fever. It may irritate your lungs and airways and give you a cough, triggering asthma or infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. There’s no cure, so expect to sniffle and sneeze for 7 to 10 days or so. See your doctor if your symptoms worsen, you have a fever for 5 or more days, or you have a severe sore throat.

This means that the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs are inflamed. A cold or the flu, or irritants like pollen or cigarette smoke, can cause it. You may cough up a thick, sometimes colored mucus. See your doctor if it lingers for 3 weeks or more, if you have a fever, or if you have blood in your mucus. You may need medicine. If you have long-term (chronic) bronchitis, breathing exercises may also help.

A virus, bacteria, or fungus infects air sacs in your lungs, which fill with fluid or pus. You may have a temperature, find it hard to breathe, and cough up thick mucus. It can be serious, so see your doctor if you have trouble breathing, chest pain, or if your fever won’t end. If bacteria are to blame, antibiotics can help. Other types are harder to treat, but rest and meds can make you feel better and stop it from getting worse.

Your airways narrow and swell, which makes it harder to breathe and may make you cough up mucus. It can be an allergic response to things like pollen, dust, or smoke. But exercise, cold air, the common cold, and even stress can trigger it. Your doctor can help you figure out what brings on your asthma and how to avoid it. You may get medication to inhale that helps you breathe during an attack or pills that help control your symptoms.

It’s a group of diseases — emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma in some cases — that can irritate or damage the tiny air sacs in your lungs. It’s harder to breathe, and you’ll likely cough a lot, which may bring up mucus. Your doctor can help you treat symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes. The most common cause is smoking. Quitting can make you feel much better and slow down the disease.

Lung Cancer
Faulty cells grow into tumors in your lungs. Smoking is the No. 1 cause, but it’s not just smokers who get it. You might not notice any signs early on. Later, you may have a cough that won’t get better or produces blood, along with chest pain, wheezing, and trouble breathing. But these things can happen for other reasons. If it’s cancer, your doctor may treat it with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy.

The tissue that lines the outside of your lungs and inside of your chest gets inflamed and rubs together. It causes a sharp pain in your chest that gets worse when you breathe. You also may have a cough or be short of breath. A virus, bacteria, or fungus can cause it, as can certain drugs, injuries, and diseases. Most people should recover fully, and your treatment depends on the cause: antibiotics for a bacterial infection, for example.

Pulmonary Embolism
A blood clot forms, usually in your leg, and travels to your lung. There, it blocks blood flow, which can damage lung tissue. You may have problems breathing, chest pain, and coughing, sometimes with blood. The spot in your leg where the clot forms may be swollen, warm, or sore. Call 911: It’s a life-threatening emergency that needs fast treatment. Your doctor might treat it with blood thinners, other drugs, or surgery.

Pulmonary Edema
Fluid collects in the air sacs in your lungs. That makes it hard for you to breathe, and worse when you lie down. You may have a fast heartbeat, feel suffocated, and cough up a foamy spittle, sometimes with blood. If it happens suddenly, call 911. Your doctor will try to treat the cause: usually heart problems, but sometimes pneumonia, certain chemicals, an injury, or high altitude.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
Tissue in your lungs gets unusually thick and stiff. That makes it hard to get oxygen into your blood, your brain, and other organs. You may find it harder to breathe and have a dry cough that’s hard to control. It’s serious and can be life-threatening within several years. But your doctor may be able to help manage your symptoms. It’s not clear what causes it, but genetics may play a role, as well as smoking and certain viruses.

It happens when you inhale dust, usually from asbestos, sand, rock, or coal. If your lungs absorb it, they can get inflamed and scarred. You may not feel the effects for years. Eventually, you may have a cough, find it harder to catch your breath, or feel chest tightness. Your doctor can use drugs, oxygen, and breathing therapy to treat symptoms and complications like asthma and COPD.

Pulmonary Hypertension
It’s a type of high blood pressure that affects the blood vessels in the lungs and right side of the heart. You may have trouble breathing, dizziness, chest pain, swelling in your legs, a racing heartbeat, or a bluish color to your lips. But you might not notice symptoms for months or years. Your doctor may prescribe drugs that help relax and expand your blood vessels in different ways. In rare cases, you may need surgery.

Cystic Fibrosis
It happens if you inherit a gene that causes the sticky buildup of mucus in your lungs and other organs. This traps bacteria, which causes constant infections and leads to lung damage and breathing problems. Children with CF may not grow as much because the mucus makes it harder to absorb nutrients from food. Treatment varies, but your doctor will likely help you remove the constant buildup of mucus with exercises, machines, and medication.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome
It often develops in the first 24 hours after birth in babies born before 28 weeks. It happens because your baby can’t yet make surfactant, a liquid that helps open up the lungs. Breathing is hard, and organs may not get enough oxygen. Your baby might sharply pull in her chest with rapid, shallow breaths, or she might grunt or flare her nostrils. A breathing tube will help bring surfactant to her lungs until she can make it herself.

Collections of cells called granulomas grow in your lungs. (It can also happen in your lymph nodes, eyes, or skin.) Doctors think it’s your immune system responding to something you breathe in. You may have a dry cough, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, wheezing, or chest pain. It often goes away on its own. Your doctor can help you manage symptoms with medication and check to see that it hasn’t gotten worse.