Answers to Common Lung Health Questions

Premier Physician Network’s physicians answer frequently asked questions about lung health.

What is asthma, and what causes it?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes your airways become narrow and inflamed, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). When the airways become inflamed, they swell and get very sensitive, which makes them tighten and let less air into and out of your lungs.

Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing, according to the NIH, though not everyone with asthma has these symptoms. The best way to tell if you have asthma is to get tested by your doctor.

Causes of asthma, according to the NIH, include:

  • During infancy, being in contact with airborne allergens or being exposed to some viruses
  • Some respiratory infections in childhood
  • Inherited asthma
  • Inherited tendency to have allergies

Though the exact cause of asthma is not known, the NIH states that research shows that a combination of genetic and environmental factors cause asthma, usually early in life.

For more information about asthma and its causes, talk with your physician.

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What happens to the body during an asthma attack?

Your airways are paths that carry air to your lungs, according to the Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

When the airways become inflamed, they swell and get sensitive, which makes them tighten. As they grow tighter, they less air into and out of your lungs, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing, according to the NIH.

Talk with your doctor for more information about what happens during an asthma attack.

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What things can trigger an asthma attack?

A variety of factors can cause your asthma to flare up, triggering an asthma attack. Some of these factors, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH), include

  • Animal fur allergen
  • Cockroach allergen
  • Dust mites
  • hairspray
  • Mold
  • Pets
  • Physical activity
  • Pollen from trees, grasses and flowers
  • Scented home sprays
  • Smoke from burning wood
  • Sulfites in food or drinks
  • Tobacco smoke

For more information about factors that can trigger an asthma attack, talk with your doctor.

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Why is it important for people to monitor their asthma?

Making sure people are informed and educated about how to manage their asthma on their own is one of the most important parts of controlling and caring for the disease, according to the Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

Keeping a journal of your daily symptoms can be an important way to keep track of and accurately share them with your doctor, according to the American Lung AssociationOff Site Icon (ALA).

There are four key symptoms, according to the ALA, for people with asthma to monitor:

  • Activity level – Write down any difficulty you have throughout the day with normal activities including climbing stairs, chores, playing with your kids or walking
  • Daytime symptoms – Tack how often asthma symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing happen during the day
  • Nighttime symptoms – Keep track of coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing or any other symptoms that keep you up or wake you during the night
  • Rescue inhaler use – Track how often you use your rescue inhaler to help with asthma symptoms

For more information about tracking your asthma symptoms and why it’s important, talk with your doctor.

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Dayton is ranked 21st in a list of the worst cities for people living with asthma in 2014. What causes Dayton to be so difficult for asthma sufferers?

In 2014, Dayton was ranked 21st out of the 100 worst city for asthma sufferers, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of AmericaOff Site Icon (AAFA).

The report shows that where you live has an effect on how many and how bad of asthma triggers you are exposed to. Factors the lead to the city listing included air pollution, pollen counts, secondhand smoke, poverty, uninsured families and emergency department visits, according to the AAFA.

Living in a city in which asthma ranks as a high burden shows how the environment in the area could negatively affect your quality of life, cost of living and access to care, according to the AAFA.

In the study, Dayton ranked “worse that average” in the categories of prevalence, annual pollen score, poverty rate, emergency visits for asthma, use of quick release medication and use of control medication, according to the AAFA.

The city was rated “average” in crude death rate for asthma, air quality, uninsured rate and number of asthma specialists, according to the AAFA, and it was rated “better than average in public smoke-free laws and school inhaler access law.

Talk to your physician for more information about factors that can lead to problems for allergy sufferers in certain cities.

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Who is at risk for pneumonia?

While anyone can develop pneumonia, there are groups of people who are at higher risk of developing the illness.

According to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon(AAFP), people at higher risk of getting pneumonia include:

  • Agriculture workers
  • Alcohol users
  • Anyone who has recently had an organ transplant
  • Anyone with AIDS
  • Anyone with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Anyone with HIV
  • Construction workers
  • ICU patients
  • People of Native Alaskan or Native American descent
  • People older than 65
  • People receiving chemotherapy
  • People who have an immune system-weakening disease or condition
  • People with diabetes
  • People with emphysema
  • People with heart disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Smokers

While some of these risks cannot be avoided, others are changes you can make to help prevent pneumonia, such as not smoking, according to the AAFP.

For more information about being at risk of getting pneumonia, talk with your physician.

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How is pneumonia properly diagnosed and treated?

If your doctor thinks you might have pneumonia, he or she will diagnose you based on your medical history and an exam, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).

Other tests your doctor might do, according to the AAFP, include:

  • Blood testing – Blood tests and mucus tests can help a doctor decide if what is causing the pneumonia – bacteria, a fungal organism or a virus.
  • Chest x-ray – Having a chest x-ray can help your doctor see if you have pneumonia and how far the infection has spread.

A variety of factors will determine how your doctor treats your pneumonia, including your age, your overall health, the type of pneumonia and how severe your symptoms are, according to the AAFP.

Antibiotics often are prescribed for bacterial pneumonia, but they won’t work on viral pneumonia, states the AAFP. An antifungal medicine might be prescribed to fight off a fungal pneumonia.

People with very severe cases of pneumonia might need to be hospitalized so patients can have oxygen to help with breathing and IV (intravenous) antibiotics, according to the AAFP.

In other cases, however, you can stay at home and treat your pneumonia with the antibiotics or over-the- counter medication your doctor has prescribed or recommended.

In addition to medicine, according to the AAFP, at home you should:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and loosen mucus in your lungs
  • Get plenty of rest to help your body fight the infection
  • Stay home from school or work until your symptoms – including fever and coughing up mucus – have gone away
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke because smoking makes symptoms worse
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier and take warm baths to help clear your lungs and make it easier to breathe

Patients caring for their pneumonia at home should follow up with their doctor if symptoms don’t improve, according to the AAFP.

For more information about diagnosing and treating pneumonia, talk with your physician.

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How serious is pneumonia, and what can be done to prevent it?

Pneumonia can become very serious if there are complications, including bacteria in the bloodstream and pleural effusion, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP). Pleural effusion is when fluid builds up in the tissue between the lungs and chest wall and becomes infected.

It is most likely that these complications will happen in people who smoke, people over 65 and people with heart and lung problems, according to the AAFP.

The best ways to prevent pneumonia, according to the AAFP, include:

  • Avoiding sick people
  • Getting the flu vaccine
  • Getting the pneumococcal vaccine
  • Having good hygiene, including frequent hand washing
  • Not smoking

For more information about how serious pneumonia can be and how to prevent it, talk with your doctor.

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Are there any long-term effects from having pneumonia?

If your pneumonia is not treated and gets out of control, it is possible that the illness could cause damage to your lungs that creates a need for a breathing machine, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon.

Severe pneumonia that is not treated properly or quickly enough can also lead to death, according to the NIH.

Talk to your physician for more information about possible long-term effects of pneumonia.

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What is pulmonary fibrosis?

Pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring of the lungs, according to the Pulmonary Fibrosis FoundationOff Site Icon (PFF). The scar tissue builds up in the walls of the lungs’ air sacs.

Over time, the scar tissue makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood, and the low oxygen levels can cause shortness of breath, especially when exercising, according to the PFF.

The term pulmonary fibrosis refers to any of more than 200 different lung diseases that all have similar symptoms, according to the PFF.

To learn more about pulmonary fibrosis, talk with your physician.

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Who is at risk for pulmonary fibrosis?

The cause of pulmonary fibrosis isn’t always known, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

However, certain factors put some people at higher risk, according to the NIH. Those risk factors include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Environmental pollutants, such as silica dust, hard metal dust, bacteria, and animal proteins
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Some medications, including amiodarone, bleomycin, methotrexate, and nitrofurantoin
  • Viral infections, such as influenza A, hepatitis C, HIV, herpes virus 6, and Epstein-Barr

For more information about who is at risk for pulmonary fibrosis, talk with your doctor.

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What are the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis?

There are a variety of symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

Those symptoms include:

  • Aching joints and muscles
  • Clubbing, which is a widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers and toes
  • Dry, hacking cough that doesn’t get better
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss without a known reason

The shortness of breath and cough are the most common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis, according to the NIH.

Talk to your doctor for more information about pulmonary fibrosis symptoms.

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What health issues – beyond respiratory illness – are linked to smoking?

In addition to respiratory conditions, smoking can cause a variety of other health issues throughout the body.

According to the Center for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC) some of the health issues smoking can cause include:

  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Increased risk of cataracts
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Poor bone health, including weaker bones
  • Reduced fertility in men
  • Unhealthy teeth and gums

Smoking can also cause vision problems and decreased immune function.

For more information about health issues related to smoking, talk with your doctor.

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How quickly does a person’s body experience benefits from smoking cessation?

Once you quit smoking, your body starts to experience some of the benefits of better health almost right away.

Overtime, according to the Center for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC), quitting will benefit:

  • Your cardiovascular risks – about a year after you quit smoking your risk of having a heart attack sharply drops
  • Risk of stroke – Within 2 years the risk is comparable to a non-smoker
  • Your cancer risk – The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder decrease by 50 percent within 5 years
  • Lung cancer – 10 years after you quit smoking, your risk for lung cancer decreases by half

For more information about how quickly your body experiences benefits after you quit smoking, talk with your doctor.

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What is available today to help someone quit smoking?

There are many options available today to help people quit smoking. There are a variety of apps and online resources to help you track your progress, according to smokefree.govOff Site Icon, a site dedicated to helping people quit smoking.

Medication options also are available. Many of these medications are even covered by most insurance companies, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

Nicotine replacement gums, patches, inhalers, and more also are available, but aren’t typically covered by insurance companies.

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Can secondhand smoke place a person at risk of the same health issues as smoking?

Secondhand smoke can put you at risk for the same health issues as the person who is smoking.

Because the same chemicals are being inhaled through direct smoking and through secondhand smoke, it has the same negative health effects, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

For more information about the dangers of secondhand smoke, talk with your doctor.

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What is bronchitis?

Physician Assistant Breanna Veal discusses bronchitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tree, which is a tree-looking series of tubes that carry air into your lungs. 

These tubes swell and fill with mucus when they are infected, which makes it hard to breathe, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).

Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, but it can also be caused by bacteria. 

If you have bronchitis, your symptoms could include a cough that brings up mucus, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath and a low fever, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

For more information about bronchitis, talk with your doctor.

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What is pneumonia?

Physician Assistant Breanna Veal discusses pneumonia. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Pneumonia is an infection that can settle in one or both of your lungs, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).

Though pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi, bacteria is the most common cause. 

Bacterial pneumonia can make you very sick very fast, so it’s important to get medical help quickly and be treated with antibiotics, according to the American Association of Retired PersonsOff Site Icon (AARP).

About one-third of the cases of pneumonia in the U.S. each year are caused by viruses. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics, the ALA says.

One virus that is a common cause of pneumonia is the flu. Rhinovirus (a cold) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are other frequent causes of pneumonia.

The germs that cause pneumonia often make their way to your lungs by taking advantage of your immune system while it’s already weakened by another sickness. 

Pneumonia causes the air sacs in your lungs to fill with fluid. Symptoms that go along with the sickness include cough, fever, chills and trouble breathing.

Pneumonia can be dangerous to your health, because it can become hard for oxygen to reach your blood, which keeps your cells from working right. 

For more information about pneumonia, talk with your doctor. 

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Is it easy to confuse bronchitis and pneumonia?

Physician Assistant Breanna Veal discusses whether bronchitis and pneumonia can be easily confused. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The symptoms of bronchitis and pneumonia are the same in most cases, according to the American Association of Retired PersonsOff Site Icon (AARP).

It can be easy to confuse one sickness with the other. 

The major difference between the two is that bronchitis is most often caused by a virus, and pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria. This is important not only in your diagnosis, but also in your treatment.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how easy it can be to confuse bronchitis and pneumonia.

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Are there distinct symptoms that can be used to tell bronchitis and pneumonia apart?

Physician Assistant Breanna Veal discusses symptom differences of bronchitis and pneumonia. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Because many of the symptoms of bronchitis and pneumonia are the same, it can be tricky to tell the difference between the two.

Fortunately, having a chest X-ray can show a visible difference between what the lungs look like with bronchitis and with pneumonia, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how to determine whether a sickness is bronchitis or pneumonia.

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Thanks to these Premier Physician Network physicians for answering these common asthma and allergy questions:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician

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