Respiratory Problems

Respiratory problems can be divided into three categories: infections of the upper and lower respiratory tracts, such as the common cold, sinusitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis; chronic obstructive lung diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema; and occupation-related lung diseases, such as asbestosis and coal miner's disease.


Respiratory infections, which can range from mild to extremely serious, are caused primarily by viruses or bacteria settling in your airways. Your ability to handle these infections depends on such factors as age, the presence or absence of other underlying diseases, and whether or not you smoke.

Chronic obstructive diseases have multiple causes. The chronic inflammation of lung tissue characteristic of asthma, for example, can be brought on by pollen, irritants, or exercise. The destruction of lung tissue that is the result of emphysema is caused by excessive smoking or a hereditary enzyme deficiency.

Occupation-related lung diseases can be brought on by an individual's hypersensitivity to work-site substances or by the inhalation of particulate foreign matter, such as asbestos fibers, coal dust, and stone dust (which causes silicosis).

Diagnostic and Test Procedures

Physicians use a variety of diagnostic tests and techniques to evaluate problems in your respiratory tract, including chest X-rays, lung scans, CT scans, analysis of a sputum specimen, and pulmonary function tests.

Invasive tests may be used when specific information is required. An ABG (arterial blood gas) test, for example, measures oxygen and car bon dioxide levels in the blood; a lung biopsy provides tissue samples that can be examined under a microscope.


Many respiratory infections usually go away on their own in a week to 10 days. Conventional and alternative therapies offer a range of simple treatments to relieve discomfort.

Conventional Medicine

If you have a bacterial respiratory infection, your doctor will probably prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. For the common cold, sinusitis, and acute bronchitis, you can make yourself more comfortable with bed rest, plenty of liquids, increased humidity (or steam), and medications for fever or pain. If you smoke, you will be advised to quit. Inhaled medications may help for chronic obstructive diseases such as asthma and emphysema. There is no effective treatment for the occupation-related lung diseases asbestosis and silicosis, except to avoid further exposure to respiratory irritants - including secondhand smoke - and if you smoke, to quit.

Alternative Choices

Alternative therapies may be helpful in relieving symptoms of respiratory problems. Consult an aromatherapist or herbal therapist for advice on using essential oils and herbs for massages and steam inhalation that may help reduce congestion and soothe inflammation. A practitioner of Chinese medicine might recommend acupuncture, acupressure, or various Chinese herbs. Homeopaths prescribe a wide range of medications for respiratory problems. Most practitioners agree that your immune system can be strengthened and maintained through good nutrition and healthful dietary practices. Try the recommended daily dosages of Vitamins A, B complex, C, and E, and the minerals zinc and selenium.

Submitted By
Dr. A. Kader

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