Obstructive Lung Disease

The lungs are extremely vital organs within the human body, being responsible for receiving inhaled air and oxygenating blood to be carried around the body. However, there are numerous conditions that can affect one's lungs.This article will explain all one needs to know about one of these conditions – obstructive lung disease.

What Is Obstructive Lung Disease?

This condition is essential where an individual has difficulty in expelling all air from their lungs when exhaling. The air which is being exhaled moves slower than it would in an otherwise healthy individual. This condition is often caused by swelling and inflammation, as well as overexposure to airway irritants. Such instances cause one's airways to become blocked and/or narrower, which is why one experiences difficulty in exhaling all of the air out of the lungs. As all of the air is not expelled, a higher than normal volume of air still remains within the lungs after exhaling (known as increased residual volume). This trapped air may cause hyperinflation and further exacerbate ones symptoms.

What Are the Main Types of Obstructive Lung Disease?

There are numerous types of obstructive lung disease, in which there are popular ones, including asthma, bronchiectasis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).These will be explained in further detail below.

1. Asthma

Affecting over 300 million individuals worldwide, asthma causes one's airways (bronchial tubes) to become hyper-responsive. This leads to the production of excessive mucus as the airways become inflamed, as well as causes the muscles in and around one's airways to become tight and narrow. This condition can be triggered by numerous things, including allergic reactions to dust and pollen, smoking, cold air, infection in the respiratory tract, or exercise. Those with asthma may experience recurring instances of breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing (usually more sever in the mornings and evenings).

2. Bronchiectasis

When there is damage to one's airways, causing them to become wider, scarred, and flabby, it is known as bronchiectasis. Those with this condition eventually lose the ability to clear mucus from their airways, meaning it builds up and leads to numerous complications, including repeated, severe infections of the lung (as bacteria builds up on the mucus), respiratory failure, heart failure, and atelectasis.


This inflammatory lung condition causes an obstruction in airflow from one's lungs. It is often caused by long-term exposure to airway irritants, such as cigarette smoke, or gases. Those with COPD may experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and sputum production, as well as have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, among other serious conditions.

Two big contributing factors to the development of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is where one's bronchial tubes become inflamed; these tubes are responsible for carrying air to and from one's alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. Emphysema is a condition whereby one's alveoli at the end of the bronchioles are destroyed by exposure to irritants.

How to Diagnose Obstructive Lung Disease

To diagnose obstructive lung disease, one must first visit a health care professional. Upon visiting one's doctor, one will likely undergo a pulmonary function test, wherein one would blow air into a machine through a mouthpiece, the machine will then record the volume of air being exhaled. One's doctor may also carry out a physical examination, as well as quiz you on your lifestyle to ascertain certain habits, like smoking, which can contribute to lung disease. Other tests which may be carried out include an imaging test, such as CT scan or an X-ray, or a bronchoscopy, wherein a physician will look inside one's airways with a bronchoscope, and take samples for testing.

How to Treat Obstructive Lung Disease

Treatment for obstructive lung disease is often aimed to open up the airway. In most cases, medications work to relax the muscles in the lung or can be helpful in combatting inflammation of the airway. A doctor may also suggest the use of supplemental oxygen to assist with breathing (if difficulty in doing so).

Differences with Restrictive Lung Disease?

Opposite to obstructive lung disease, restrictive lung diseases are where an individual experiences a reduction in total lung capacity, or TLC. Total lung capacity is the amount of air one can inhale into their lungs after taking as deep a breath as one can. In the case of restrictive lung disease, the lungs are incapable of expanding fully, meaning one's total TLC is reduced. One must measure their TLC to determine and diagnose restrictive lung disease and the severity. Different types of restrictive lung disease include:

  • Intrinsic,including disorders such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, sarcoidosis, etc.
  • Extrinsic, including disorders such as rib fractures, scoliosis, pleural effusion, kyphosis, etc.
  • Neurological, including conditions such as diaphragm paralysis, myasthenia gravis, etc.
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