Respiratory Disease

Imhealthist | Sunday 15th of May 2016 12:31:06 AM


Breathing is nothing but exchange of gases in which, carbon dioxide is carried out and oxygen is carried in. Organs and tissues that enable us to breathe constitute the respiratory system.  This includes lungs, windpipe, bronchial tubes, voice box (larynx), nose, mouth and the blood vessels and the muscles associated with breathing. When organs or tissues associated with this system get affected, it is called respiratory disease.

The respiratory diseases range from mild to life threatening. The disease may be either acute or chronic and few examples are Asthma, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, tuberculosis, obstructive sleep apnea, bronchiectasis and lung cancer.


Respiratory diseases can be classified as upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) and lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI). The organs that constitute upper respiratory tract system are nasal cavity, oral cavity and larynx whereas trachea, primary bronchi and lungs forms lower respiratory tract. Generally, infections in LRTI are more serious in nature than URTI. Moreover, WHO states that the lower respiratory tract infections are the leading cause of fatality among all the infectious deaths.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections:

Infection in the upper tract is very common and this happens when the upper airway tract is infected, mostly by virus and also rarely by bacteria.  These diseases are contagious and easily spread from one person to another. Rhinovirus, adenovirus, coxsackie virus, parainfluenza virus respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus are some of the viruses which infect the upper tract and cause the disease. Some examples for this category of disease are common cold, tonsillitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, trachetits, sinuses and otitis media.

The symptoms for URTI may vary from fever, headache, throat pain, wheezing, difficulty in swallowing food, apart from other common symptoms like runny nose, nasal congestion, production of sputum and cough. The symptoms usually begin 1-3 days after exposure to the virus and the infection may last for 10 days. The infection causing virus spreads mainly through air if the infected person does not cover the mouth while he / she sneezes or coughs. Risk prone areas are hospitals, schools, crèche and also other crowded places. Fall and winter seasons are the favorable seasons for virus to spread.  And finally it becomes very easy for the virus to infect when our immunity system is not strong enough.

Lower Respiratory Tract Infection:

Infection in the lungs, windpipe and airways leads to lower respiratory tract infection. Bronchitis, bronchiolitis, croup, Lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Pneumonia are the most common diseases of lower respiratory tract infections. COPD is an obstructive lung disease caused mainly due to smoking and air pollution. Statistics reveals that 5% of the world population is affected by COPD and is growing with time.

Symptoms include severe cough sometimes with blood and mucus, body ache, headache, vomiting, breathlessness, wheezing, sore throat, chills and fever, irritability, blocked nose. The infection may be bacterial or viral. According to the symptoms, doctors categorize the infection as viral or bacterial and treat it accordingly.

Respiratory Diseases for Infants:

Babies and small children easily get affected by bronchiolitis and pneumonia and can be fatal if not treated on time. In premature babies, the lungs may not have fully developed or in other words sufficient surfactant in the lungs may not be there.  This may cause difficulty in breathing and leads to various problems like 

  • Apnea of prematurity - breathing stops for few seconds during sleep
  •  Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) - chronic lung disease
  •  Meconium aspiration - new born baby inhales its first feces and amniotic fluid during delivery. 


Though most of the respiratory diseases can be treated, these diseases can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle by keeping our hands clean, avoid smoking, avoiding allergens, avoiding pollutants in any form like dust, fumes and by consuming healthy food which can boost the immunity system of our body.