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This lesson will discuss the different categories of respiratory diseases, including infectious, obstructive, and restrictive. Examples of each category will also be discussed.

Respiratory Disease

Numerous kinds of problems can affect your respiratory system, and I’d be very surprised if you’ve never had one. Some of these respiratory diseases are very simple and go away kind of quickly, like the common cold. Others can be deadly, like pneumonia. And others can go on for the rest of a person’s life, as in the case of asthma.

Unlike asthma, this lesson won’t go on forever though, and we’ll stick to discussing and classifying the major kinds of respiratory diseases.

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Infectious Respiratory Disease

The first type of respiratory disease I’m going to elaborate upon is based on infections – infections like those by viruses and bacteria.In the intro, I mentioned the common cold, which is a respiratory infection caused by a virus, commonly the rhinovirus. You know what this leads to – a brief and usually innocent enough spell of coughing, a sore throat, sneezing, and congestion. To remember that the rhinovirus is most often responsible for the common cold that causes a congested nose, think about a rhinoceros and its big horn on its nose.Of course, the common cold may be mistaken for a more powerful respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus, the virus responsible for the flu.

Like I said, the flu typically goes beyond the signs of the cold and may include muscle aches and chills. It’s also just as easy to remember that the influenza virus causes the flu, as it has the word flu right in it!Anyhow, not all infectious respiratory diseases need to be caused by a virus. Pneumonia is a case in point. Pneumonia is an inflammatory infection of the lungs and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Pneumonia is a very serious lung disease, and people may develop shortness of breath and a cough with a lot of phlegm.But coughing up some phlegm isn’t as bad as coughing up blood, as per tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. One really bad thing about tuberculosis is that it sometimes loves to go latent.

This means it basically sits there in your lungs and waits to attack you at a later date, especially if you are seriously ill for any other reason. Essentially, as soon as you are down and out for the count due to another serious disease, tuberculosis may come back to haunt you right when you are less likely to fight it off successfully.

Restrictive Lung Disease

Respiratory diseases need not be solely infectious in nature, and they can be classified in other ways as well.Firstly, there is something called restrictive lung disease. This refers to disorders that make it difficult for people to breathe air in because the lungs cannot fully expand. Secondly, there are obstructive airway diseases we’ll get to later.

Causes for restrictive airway disease include lungs that are just too stiff to expand and allow air in, as in the case of interstitial lung disease. It’s like having a tire, as opposed to a simple balloon, for a lung. It’s clearly going to be much harder to fill a stiff tire with air than it is a flexible balloon.Another reason for restrictive airway disease occurs as a result of chest wall problems, such as problems expanding properly.

Put your arms on your ribs and breathe in deeply using your chest. You’ll feel the chest and ribs expand to accommodate the air coming in. If the chest cannot do this, then the lungs will not be able to fill with air.

Obesity can cause this type of restrictive movement and so can kyphoscoliosis, a condition where the spine is curved improperly.A final cause of restrictive airway disease stems from weak respiratory muscles. Your diaphragm is like a pump that moves up and down to allow the lungs to expand and then shrink to let air in and out. If the respiratory muscles in your body are too weak to function, they cannot help your lungs to pull in enough air. Weak airway muscles can result from many different disorders that have nothing initially to do with airway disease, including myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, and ALS.

Obstructive Lung Disease

In contrast to the restrictive airway diseases, I previously mentioned obstructive lung disease. This is a term that refers to conditions that make it difficult to exhale all of the air out of the lungs and results in shortness of breath. To remember this, think of the fact that obstructive lung disease makes it difficult to exhale all of the air out.Examples of the things that are classified under obstructive lung disease include things that literally get in the way of air getting out of the lungs, like a foreign body or tumor.

It’s like having a water pipe plugged with something – of course it’s going to be difficult for water to move past that point – and air is no different when moving through the airways of the lungs.Furthermore, if there is an increased resistance to outflow due to thickened airways, plugging with mucus, or an increased tendency for the airways to close up or collapse, then air will have trouble getting out as well. Some of these problems can occur in asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, all of which are obstructive lung diseases.

Lesson Summary

Obstructive lung disease refers to conditions that make it difficult to exhale all of the air out of the lungs.

These conditions include asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, tumors, and foreign bodies.Unlike obstructive lung diseases, restrictive lung disease indicates disorders that make it difficult for people to breathe air in. This includes interstitial lung disease, kyphoscoliosis, and myasthenia gravis.Of course, let’s not forget the infectious causes of respiratory diseases.

The common cold is one of these, and it’s a respiratory infection caused by a virus, commonly the rhinovirus. Another virus, the influenza virus, is the virus responsible for the flu, which is a well-known infectious cause of respiratory disease.We also mentioned pneumonia, which is an inflammatory infection of the lungs, and tuberculosis, which is a respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis that sometimes goes latent.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify what causes the common cold, the flu, pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Differentiate between obstructive lung disease and restrictive lung disease
  • Discuss the causes of obstructive and restrictive lung diseases

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