Do you have difficulty breathing? Do you have these symptoms or diagnoses:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD – Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis)
- Smoking related problems
- Lung cancer screening
- Immune lung disorders
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough
- Chest congestion
- Exercise/sports related shortness of breath
Not breathing well? Our experts can find the exact problem so you can breathe easier.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of lung diseases that are associated with difficulty in breathing (shortness of breath) due to obstruction of bronchial airway and/or damage to the alveoli (air sacs of the lung tissue). The two chief types of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Asthma and COPD can present with similar symptoms which can lead to errors in diagnosis.
COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and Canada. It affects approximately 15 million Americans and causes 100,000 deaths each year. Ninety percent of all COPD cases are caused by chronic cigarette smoking. However, a small percentage of individuals with emphysema have an inherited type of disease or disease of an unknown cause.
The two most common types of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is possible to have one or both of these diseases.
Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the air passageways in the lungs (bronchial tubes) and increased mucus production. The mucous glands are enlarged and produce excessive amounts of mucus. This often causes a chronic cough. As the inflammation progresses over time, the airways become narrow and irreversibly obstructed. If you suffer from chronic bronchitis, it is likely you experience symptoms of coughing and increased sputum as well as shortness of breath and wheezing.
Emphysema is a disease caused by damage to the lung tissue called alveoli where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of destruction of these air sacs, leading to an inability to absorb oxygen into the lungs. If you suffer from emphysema, shortness of breath is often the primary symptom, although symptoms of coughing and wheezing may also be prominent.
With COPD, you will often have elements of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, rather than purely one or the other. Early in the disease process, symptoms may be obvious only when you have a “chest cold” or during strenuous physical exertion. In between these periods, you may feel quite well and be free of symptoms. Unfortunately, your COPD will progress silently over time, causing ever more permanent lung damage, especially if you continue to smoke cigarettes. Inevitably, symptoms become more frequent over time, and eventually symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing become disabling, requiring you to use supplemental oxygen to carry out simple, everyday chores. In the worst cases, COPD causes the heart to fail and you can ultimately succumb.
COPD is an obstructive airway disease, and in this way it is quite like asthma. In fact, early in COPD development, you may have very similar symptoms to those seen in asthma (e.g. coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath). However, the cause of COPD is usually due to cigarette smoking, and the resulting inflammation is different than the inflammation found in the asthmatic airway, thus leading to an entirely different outcome.
COPD is often misdiagnosed as asthma early in its development. While the obstructive nature of asthma and COPD may be similar in some ways, they are two very different diseases.
Asthma and COPD differ in many ways
COPD is usually caused by cigarette smoking while asthma is not cause by smoking, although it will be worsened by smoking. Asthma is frequently associated with allergy while COPD is not. Asthma is usually highly responsive to medications, and avoidance of symptoms triggers usually results in reversibility of airway obstruction. In contrast, the airway obstruction in COPD rarely shows much reversibility with treatment. However, the progression of COPD may be stopped or slowed down with smoking cessation. An allergist or pulmonologist can tell the difference between asthma and COPD and offer appropriate treatment.
Finally, it should be realized that asthma and COPD can coexist in what is called asthma COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS). If you have asthma and smoke cigarettes for years, it would not be unusual for you to develop COPD. In this case, both COPD and asthma coexist. Therefore, both diseases must be treated at the same time.
Bronchiectasis is an obstructive lung disease that may mimic asthma or COPD or co-exist with these conditions, especially in patients who have severe long-standing asthma or COPD. Chronic inflammation in the airways is thought to be the primary cause of bronchiectasis as demonstrated in chronic recurrent pulmonary infections or in autoimmune conditions involving the airways. Consequently, patients who have immunodeficiencies like common variable hypogammaglobulinemia or selective IgM or IgA immunodeficiencies have associated increased susceptibility to respiratory infections in the lungs with chronic inflammation, where chronic inflammatory airways can lead to increased risk of developing bronchiectasis. We have significant number of patients who have these immunodeficiencies who have done very well on a combination of pulmonary medication as well as gammaglobulin replacement. Chronic bronchiectasis is associated with prior mucocilliary clearance, which is the inability of the lungs to sweep out mucus from the airways leading to increased secretions in the airways leading to airway obstruction, airway inflammation, and ultimately infection. These exacerbations of bronchiectasis can lead to the exacerbation of underlying asthma or COPD. CAT scans of the lungs, in addition to pulmonary function studies are very helpful in diagnosing bronchiectasis. Treatment of bronchiectasis oftentimes traditionally includes inhaled steroids, inhaled bronchodilators, and antibiotics to decrease the thickening of the bronchial walls, chronic cough and sputum secretion and secondary infections. Over the past decade, there has been increasing interest in use of the non-antibiotic effects of macrolide antibiotics as a maintenance therapy for some patients who have bronchiectasis, and in an unique situation, patients with primary immunodeficiencies like common variable hypogammaglobulinemia or IgM deficiency, gammaglobulin replacement has been particularly helpful. Techniques of breathing, techniques or devices to improve mucus clearances have also been used. The active treatment of reflux which may accentuate bronchiectasis may also be employed as part of a treatment strategy.
Cigarette smoking has become a major cause of illness and death among Americans. At this time, it appears to be the number one preventable health problem. In fact, about 400,000 Americans die each year as a result of tobacco use. Almost 100,000 of these 400,000 deaths result from COPD and related lung diseases that are a direct consequence of smoking. Further, the vast majority of lung cancers are also a direct result of cigarette smoking or passive exposure to second hand cigarette smoke.
Passive exposure to second hand cigarette smoke is a major, yet hidden, health issue for much of the unsuspecting population. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 compounds, some of which are clearly carcinogenic (cancer causing). Many of these compounds are derived from the tobacco leaf or from the processing of tobacco and the manufacturing of cigarettes, while other result from the burning of the processed tobacco and paper when smoking the cigarettes.
Tobacco smoke contains compounds that can cause cell mutation (changes in normal cell characteristics). These compounds can ultimately lead to significant medical problems (e.g. chronic lung disease, cancer, emphysema, asthma, and heart disease.)
Although cigarette smoking has decreased from 40% to less than 20% of the population over the past four decades, tobacco related diseases are still the most important preventable public health problem in the United States. In spite of widespread knowledge about the relationship between smoking and disease, tens of millions of people continue to smoke due to addiction.
It is clear that cigarette smoking is highly addictive, based on the symptoms of withdrawal from its use and the drug seeking behavior of its users. It appears that nicotine addiction is related to its pharmacokinetic effects on the central nervous system. Smoking allows for rapid uptake of nicotine. Concentration of nicotine in the brain rapidly increases, leading to noticeable psychoactive affects that stimulates addiction to smoking.
Statistic indicates that most people in the United States become addicted to cigarette during adolescence. The peak period for developing a regular smoking habit is during adolescence. Most teenagers who began smoking initially do it on an occasional basis. However, over a period of 8-10 years (or sooner), it often evolves into a regular habit as they become addicted. Individuals that do not smoke before the age of 20 are much less likely to become addicted. Once a person is fully addicted, his/her tobacco consumption usually remains stable, unless he/she is stressed. If the number of cigarettes is restricted, the smoker will actually inhale each cigarette more deeply in order to maintain the same nicotine level.
Smoking and COPD
Smoking is a major cause of COPD. It is estimated that perhaps 90% or more of COPD cases are a direct result of smoking cigarettes. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of developing COPD. However, even passive exposure to cigarette smoke increases your risk of developing COPD.
Although lung function is gradually lost as part of the normal aging process, it has been observed that smokers lose their lung function at twice the rate of non-smokers.
Smoking and Malignancy (Cancer)
Developing lung cancer is 20 times more common in smokers than in non-smokers. It is estimated that approximately 80% of women that have lung cancer were smokers, and that 90% of men with lung cancer were smokers. The risk of lung cancer increases in relation to the cumulative amount of cigarette smoked and the length of time that you have smoked.
In addition to statistical evidence that cigarette smoke causes cancer, there is much experimental evidence that cigarette smoke is carcinogenic and will induce all sorts of cancerous tumors in many animal models. In many smokers, there also appears to be an increased risk of cancer of the head, neck, bladder and pancreas.
Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease
Smoking is a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Cigarette smoking appears to be equal to other risk factors, such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol, in causing heart disease.
Cigarette smoking contributes to the development of heart disease in a number of ways, including: direct damage to blood vessels, increased lipids, increased tendency for blood to coagulate and increased heart rate. Cigarette smoke directly enhances the tendency for a blood vessel in the heart to become inflamed and blocked. Smoking also puts diabetic individuals at special risk by advancing diabetic vascular disease and affecting the heart, kidneys, brain and retina of the eyes.
In addition, once cardiac disease has been established, cigarette smoking can increase the risk of an irregular heart rhythm, lower oxygen to the heart leading to new damage and possibly even lead to a fatal heart attack.
Asthma and Cigarette Smoking
Asthma does not originate as a result of cigarette smoking. It begins as an independent process and is characterized by airway inflammation and hyper-reactivity. However, exposure to cigarette smoke, either by active or passive means, is among the worst triggers causing flares of asthma and the perpetuation of chronic asthma.
Family members and friends who smoke around children and adults with asthma play a major role in contributing to their asthma. If you smoke and have asthma, you have little chance of getting your asthma under control. Cigarette smoking in pregnant women increases the risk of asthma in their offspring.
Passive Cigarette Smoke Exposure
Passive or second hand cigarette smoke exposure ranks near or at the top of the list of triggers for most asthmatics. Research is beginning to show the true impact of passive smoke exposure on the health of people in all age groups. When you are exposed to cigarette smoke in the environment, it is called involuntary or passive smoke. Passive smoke is a combination of two types of smoke: 1) the “mainstream” smoke exhaled by the person who smokes; and 2) the “sidestream” smoke released from the burning tobacco. Mainstream cigarette smoke is a mixture of over 7,000 substances. Some are are known or suspected as cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) in humans. Sidestream smoke contains all of these same carcinogens, and many of them are more concentrated because the lower burning temperature of a smoldering cigarette burns up fewer carcinogens. In a report released in 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States declared, “the widespread exposure to environment tobacco smoke (ETS) in the United States presents a serious and substantial public health impact.” The EPA further concluded that, in adults, passive smoke is a Class A (known human) carcinogen “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. non-smokers.”
The most frightening statistic regarding passive smoke exposure is related to its effects on children. Children who live in a house where someone smokes have more respiratory infection and experience more frequent flares of asthma symptoms. Their symptoms are also more severe and last longer than those of children who live in a smoke-free home. The impact of passive smoke is worse during the first five years of life, when children spend most of their time with their parents. The more smokers there are in a household and the more they smoke, the greater the risk for children with asthma.
The following conditions are worsened by passive smoking:
- Croup or laryngitis
- Cough or bronchitis
- Flu (Influenza)
- Ear infections
- Middle ear fluid collections and blockage
- Colds/upper respiratory infections
- Sinus infections
- Sore throats
- Eye irritation
- Crib deaths (SIDS)
Steps to Avoid Passive Smoke Exposure
- Keep your home and automobile free from passive cigarette smoke
- Never smoke in your bedroom
- Have guests and family members smoke outside
- Consider asking family members to quit smoking
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about smoking cessation programs available in your community
- Sit in non-smoking section of public areas (restaurants, airports, shopping malls, etc.). Visit restaurants and shopping centers that are smoke-free.
- Contact your local nonprofit organization for more information. The American Lung Association (1-800-LUNGUSA; lungusa.org), the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345; cancer.org), and the American Heart Association (1-800-AHA-USA-1; americanheart.org) all have information about smoking and health.
Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer is the third most common cause of cancer in the United States and the leading cause of death due to cancer. Unfortunately, 85% of cases of lung cancer are usually diagnosed at a late state with a very poor 5-year survival rate. Effective screening at The Asthma Center: we have been employing CAT scan screening for patients at risk for a number of years in the hopes of increasing the detection rates of early stage cancer that would reduce some lung cancer mortality. Fortunately, in December 2013 and more recently, as per medical services- Medicare, I have recommended annual screening for lung cancer with low dose CAT scans in adults aged 55 to 80 who have a 30 pack year smoking history and currently a smoker or quit within the past 15 years. These recommendations are based largely on a National Lung Screening Trial that reported on benefit of early lung cancer screening as a method of picking up early lung cancer. The low dose CAT screening has potential to reduce lung cancer deaths among the estimated 9 million smokers and former smokers in the United States who meet the NLST criteria. Patients at risk for lung cancer are those who have actively smoked themselves, those who lived around passive smoke, those who have had radon exposure, those with family history suggesting a genetic link to lung cancer, and asbestos exposed patients. The physicians at The Asthma Center are ardent now to get some early lung cancer screening for lung cancer detection in our patients who may be at risk for a number of years and have been able to identify early lung cancer that have been life saving in a number of patients through this screening of people. Note that patients who undergo the screening typically have no symptoms suggestive of their underlying lung cancer since the disease is usually silent until it involves into a late stage.
Immunologic Diseases of the Lung
The lung may be a source of immunologic iillnesses as a local process or as part of a more systemic illness. The conditions that have underlying immunologic mechanisms include hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), eosinophilic lung disease, antiglomerular basement membrane symdrome, Wegener’s granulomatosis, Sarcoidosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, and cryptogenic organizing pneumonia or COPD of the lung. Clinical wise, the presentation of these diseases may be somewhat similar in terms of cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and in fact may mimic asthma, sometimes more acute symptoms like fever, chills, and dyspnea as in the case of hypersensitivity pneumonitis may be helpful. The evaluation requires an extensive history, the underlying triggers and exposures, radiographic findings, physiologic pulmonary function studies as well as blood assessments, indications and skin testing. On occasion, high index of suppression is usually required for these illnesses and depends on a very detailed environmental history. Prognoses of these illnesses vary depending on the underlying immunologic condition. On occasion when a disease state is suspected but unproven by noninvasive procedures, a diagnostic invasive procedure may be required including bronchoscopy with or without biopsy as well as an open lung biopsy. Of all the immunologic lung disease, the most common probably is Sarcoidosis as this is a systemic disease of unknown origin involving multiple organs with variable frequencies and intensities but oftentimes involves the lungs. Lung involvement usually manifests as lymph node enlargement or infiltrates in the lung with a much higher incidences in the certain populations like African Americans, Puerto Ricans and Scandinavians. Patients usually present in the third to fourth decade. This is not an infectious disease and there is no documented patient to patient transmission, although the disease may occur in families suggesting perhaps a genetic susceptibility or common exogenous exposure leading to disease. Diagnosis is made by a combination of symptoms, laboratory findings, radiographic findings, nuclear medicine findings, and pulmonary function studies and on occasion a biopsy is required.