What You Should Know About Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Are You At Risk?

man smoking cigarette
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Chronic lower respiratory is a group of diseases that affects the lungs. The diseases are most common in cigarette smokers, but everyone should understand their risk. Here's what you should know about chronic lower respiratory disease, including symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses are all grouped together under the name chronic lower respiratory disease. Chronic lower respiratory disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States.


As mentioned, chronic lower respiratory disease is an umbrella term for diseases of the lungs. Common types include:

  • Chronic Obstructed Pulmonary Disease: COPD is characterized by limitation of airflow into and out of the lungs. This limitation of airflow can be caused by a number of things, including a loss of elasticity in the air tubes and alveoli, destruction of the walls that lie between the alveoli, thickening and inflammation of the lining of the air tubes or the air tubes secreting more mucus than they should, causing them to clog. COPD is not fully reversible, but its progression can be slowed through treatment.
  • EmphysemaIn people with emphysema, some of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. This makes it hard for their body to get the oxygen it needs. Emphysema is a type of COPD.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: When the lining of the lungs' airways are red and swollen, that is one sign of chronic bronchitis. Eventually, the swelling causes the airways to narrow, and they may be partially clogged with mucus that cannot be cleared. Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD.


Cigarette smoking is the major cause of these illnesses, accounting for about 80 percent of cases. However, exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, and respiratory infections can also play a role in the development of chronic lower respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Treatment Options

The severity of the illness and treatment vary based on the particular type. In people who smoke, the most important thing they can do to aid in their treatment is to quit smoking. Avoiding smoke and other air pollutants can also help. A patient's doctor will help them create a pulmonary rehabilitation program that will teach disease management techniques and help patients increase their quality of life. Certain symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, can be treated with medications. In patients with low blood oxygen levels as a result of their chronic lower respiratory disease, supplemental oxygen may be given.

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Article Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, March 12). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
  • Office on Women’s Health: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011, January 10). Chronic lower respiratory diseases.