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The 4 Most Common Types of Lung Diseases

Each year, millions of adults and children, are impacted by lung disease.  Dr. Judy Kuhn, with WakeMed Pulmonary and Critical Care, discusses some of the most common diseases and their symptoms. Addressing symptoms early can be beneficial in diagnosing and managing lung diseases.


Asthma, one of the most common lung diseases in the world, is defined as chronic airway inflammation with airflow obstruction and intermittent symptoms. It is more common in older females, and in those with “western” and “urban” lifestyles.

Symptoms of Asthma

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Cough

Common Asthma Triggers

People with asthma typically experience symptoms after being exposed to their specific triggers, and symptoms are often worse at night. Triggers include:

  • Allergies
  • Viruses
  • Exercise
  • Cold air
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Aspirin


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation due to airway abnormalities or emphysema. This is caused by excessive exposure to noxious particles or gases (most commonly cigarette smoke).

Symptoms of COPD

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Clearing throat in the morning, due to excess mucus in lungs
  • Chronic cough that may produce mucus
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes repetitive episodes of partial or complete upper airway obstruction during sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Breathing cessation during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Experiencing depression or irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Decreased libido

Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is elevated blood pressure in the lungs. While men and women are both impacted by this disease, women have more severe symptoms.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in feet, legs, belly, neck
  • Chest pain, pounding of the heart, fainting

Educating yourself on these diseases and their symptoms can be beneficial in getting an early diagnosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your physician to determine if additional steps or testing need to be done.

About Judy Kuhn, MD

Dr. Judy Kuhn is a pulmonologist with WakeMed Physician Practices – Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine.