What happens when lungs go wrong?

In our last blog, we wrote about what happens in healthy lungs 

This week we explore what can go wrong in our lungs.  

There are many different types of chronic lung disease which can affect our airways, lung tissues or the circulation of blood in and out of our lungs.  We can also be faced with short term lung challenges though infection and disease.

Some chronic lung diseases include:

Asthma - where the bronchi and lungs become inflamed and narrow.  People with asthma can experience this consistently, or in response to triggers, such as moulds, exercise or air pollution. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - where the lungs become inflamed, overproduce mucus and the lining of the lungs become thickened.  The alveoli (air sacs) become less efficient at bringing oxygen into the body and sending carbon dioxide out.  Narrowing/inflammation of the bronchi in COPD can be permanent, compared with asthma, where it is temporary.

COPD is an umbrella term for diseases such as emphysema (weakened and ruptured alveoli) and chronic bronchitis, where the bronchi stay inflamed and over produce mucus, causing constant breathing challenges.

Interstitial lung disease – this is another umbrella term used to describe a number of lung diseases, including sarcoidosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), Langerhans cell histiocytosis and bronchiolitis obliterans.

For all interstitial lung diseases, the lung tissue becomes scarred, inflamed and stiff.  Scar tissue develops in the interstitium which is the space between the alveoli.  The scarring can spread making the lungs more rigid and unable to expand, causing dry coughs, shortness of breath and breathing difficulty.

Some autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus have been linked to interstitial lung diseases.

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the lungs.  Normal blood pressure affects all the blood vessels in the body, but pulmonary blood pressure affects only the blood vessels between the heart and lungs.  These vessels are narrowed and sometimes become blocked, meaning the heart has to work harder, increasing the blood pressure in the lung arteries and capillaries.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that babies are born with.  It changes the makeup of mucus in the body to be thicker and stickier, with more of it. This makes children more prone to infections as bacteria, viruses and fungi can be difficult to cough up.  Cystic fibrosis can also affect the digestive system. 

Chronic pneumonia is a lung infection which is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.  The alveoli become inflamed and can fill up with fluid which disrupts the oxygen flow.

We are all able to get pneumonia, but people whose lungs are already vulnerable through other illnesses and a weakened immune system, are more likely to develop it and can take longer to recover.

Lung cancer is a disease where the cells in your lungs grow abnormally, eventually forming tumours.  As the tumours grow, the lungs struggle to do their job and the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

We understand at Zestt Wellness, from personal experience, that lung diseases can be incredibly difficult to live with.  There are numerous medical treatments for such diseases, and we urge you to work closely with your doctor and wider medical team to get treatment which works for you. 

We want to reiterate that people should seek medical advice if they have any concerns about their lung function – this blog is for information and discussion only.

There are also lifestyle changes you can make to enhance breathing quality and we will explore that in our next blog. 

In the meantime, kia kaha, stay strong and positive where you can.  Sometimes when life is really challenging, it is the small things that can make a difference – a garden walk, a hug, a beautiful meal.  

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing” - Camille Pissarro.