Types of Airway Diseases
Tampa General Hospital is one of the nation’s leading academic medical institutions. The multidisciplinary team in our highly acclaimed Pulmonology and Lung Center specializes in diagnosing and treating all types of airway diseases and other respiratory conditions.
Airway diseases affect the bronchial tubes that carry oxygen into and out of the lungs, causing those tubes to become narrower or obstructed. There are several types of airway diseases, including:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Reactive airway disease
Reactive airway disease is similar to asthma, but it is not a definitive diagnosis. Instead, the term is used to describe general breathing problems caused by airway oversensitivity to an inhaled irritant.
What causes the various types of airway diseases?
All types of airway diseases are caused by irritation, swelling and inflammation in the bronchial tubes. For instance, in response to an inhaled irritant, the airways may produce excess mucus and the surrounding muscles may spasm, both of which can cause the bronchial tubes to narrow, making it harder to breathe. The most common triggers are smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. Other triggers include allergens, such as pollen and dust mites, and viruses that cause respiratory infections, such as the common cold and flu.
What are the symptoms of airway diseases?
Because it is hard to move air through narrowed bronchial tubes, some people with airway disease describe feeling as if they are “trying to breathe through a straw.” In addition to breathing difficulty, all types of airway diseases can cause:
- Persistent coughing that may produce mucus (sputum)
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Chest tightness
- Lack of energy
- Swelling in legs, ankles and feet
- Unintended weight loss
How are airway diseases diagnosed?
In general, the diagnostic process for all types of airway diseases includes a medical history review, a physical exam and one or more lung function tests, such as:
- Spirometry – Measures the volume and speed of air inhaled and exhaled
- Pulse oximetry – Measures the oxygen saturation of the blood
- Arterial blood gas analysis – Measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) test – Helps assess airway inflammation
- Bronchial provocation (trigger) test – Identifies lung sensitivity to certain irritants
Additionally, a physician may order a chest X-ray, a CT scan, blood work, allergy testing and/or genetic and sweat testing.
How are airway diseases treated?
In smokers with airway disease, the most important aspect of treatment is quitting. Other therapies can help slow the progression of airway disease, manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of serious complications, such as pneumonia. These include:
- Medications – Bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, oral steroids, phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors and antibiotics
- Lung therapies – Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation
- Breathing devices – Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) and in-home noninvasive ventilation therapy
- Surgery – Lung volume reduction surgery, bullectomy and lung transplantation (in very severe cases)
Entrust your care to TGH
At TGH, we know that no two patients or airway diseases are the same. Using the latest advances in precision medicine, the specialists in our Pulmonology and Lung Center provide individualized care to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. For this reason, TGH has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report 2023-24 as a high-performing hospital for COPD and ranked as One of the Nation's Best Hospitals for Pulmonology & Lung Surgery.
Contact us at 800-822-3627 to request a consultation with a member of our team.