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Disorders of Respiratory System

Disorders of Respiratory System


  • Respiratory disorders are a group of diseases that affect the airways and lungs.
  • Millions of people around the world are suffering from respiratory disorders.

Topics covered:

  • Rhinitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Occupational Lung Disorders
  • Tuberculosis(T.B)
  • Pneumonia
  • Mountain Sickness
  • Decompression Sickness



  • Irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose.


  • Inflammation is caused by viruses, bacteria or allergens (allergy-causing agents).
  • Allergic rhinitis is the most common, triggered mostly by pollen.


  • Common symptoms are stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, post-nasal drip, nasal itching, watery eyes, coughing, headache, fatigue.



  • It is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes.
  • Bronchitis can be of two types - acute and chronic
  • Acute is for a short time whereas chronic bronchitis is long-term inflammation


  • Virus can be the cause of acute bronchitis
  • Smoking, exposure to air pollution, dust, toxic gases in the environment can cause chronic bronchitis.


  • Cough with sputum, fatigue, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest discomfort.



  • The word ‘emphysema’ means full of air or inflation.
  • It is a chronic disorder.
  • Bronchitis and emphysema are collectively termed as COPD(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)


  • Chronic smoking is a major cause
  • Secondary smoking or inhalation of toxic substances for a long period of time.


  • The walls of alveoli are damaged.
  • Loss of elasticity of walls of bronchioles and alveoli leads to reduction of surface area for gaseous exchange.
  • Lungs remain inflated(hyperinflated) as exhalation becomes difficult.




  • It is a chronic disorder that affects both children and adults.


  • It occurs due to allergic reactions that affect the respiratory tract.
  • Allergens that cause reactions can be pollen, dust, dust mites, dander, feathers, animal fur, smoke and fumes etc.


  • Spasm of smooth muscles present in walls of bronchioles.
  • Airways become inflamed, swollen and narrow lumened.
  • Difficulty in breathing due to inflammation (swelling and redness of bronchi and bronchioles)
  • Excessive mucus secretion reduces the lumen further,making expiration difficult.
  • Coughing and wheezing.
  • Orthopnoea.


Occupational Lung Disorders


  • It is mostly seen in people associated with certain occupations where they are chronically exposed to inflammatory agents.
  • factory workers, especially doing the work of stone-breaking or grinding.
  • Workers should wear mask


  • Continuous exposure to harmful substances, gases fumes and dust etc for prolonged periods.
  • Common types are:
    a. Silicosis - Caused by the prolonged exposure to dust of silica, found in quartz, sand many other rocks.commonly seen in construction and glass factory workers.
    b. Asbestosis - Caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres
    c. Pneumoconiosis (Black lung disease) - Caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust, common in coal miners
    d. Byssinosis - Caused by work-related prolonged exposure to cotton, hemp, flax, sisal dust or particles


  • Serious lung damage due to fibrosis (proliferation of fibrous tissues) of upper parts of lungs
  • Inflammation of lungs.



  • Also called Koch’s disease
  • It is an infectious disease that affects the lungs.
  • It can also affect other organ systems.
  • It is a major health problem in India, affecting millions of people every year.


  • Caused by a bacterium, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • Pulmonary tuberculosis is transmitted through droplet infection.


  • Prolonged cough with yellow-green mucus or even blood
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue and weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats



  • It is an infectious disease that causes the inflammation of air sacs in the lungs.


  • It can be caused by bacteria, virus or fungi.
  • Bacteria that cause pneumonia are Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae.


  • Chest pain
  • Cough with sputum (greenish-yellow)
  • Loss of appetite and fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

Mountain Sickness


  • Also known as altitude sickness.
  • One gets mountain sickness if one travels to a high altitude too quickly.


  • As we go to higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure and therefore oxygen pressure reduces.
  • It becomes difficult to adjust to lower oxygen pressure.


  • Heading
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid or shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite.

The condition subsides on its own within 24hrs of reaching the high altitude region,due to polycythaemia (increased RBC production.

Decompression Sickness


  • Also called "the bends" or Caisson's sickness.
  • A medical condition caused by a rapid decrease in pressure that surrounds one's body.
  • It is a type of barotrauma.
  • It is mostly seen in deep-sea divers.
  • It can also happen if one travels in an unpressurised plane.


  • Deep-sea divers breathe compressed air while diving.
  • Compressed air has nitrogen
  • Under higher pressure, nitrogen diffuses into the body tissues.
  • If the diver rises to the surface at the normal rate then nitrogen gas is safely released from the body through lungs
  • If a diver rises to the surface suddenly, then nitrogen gas escapes quickly, forming bubbles in the blood.
  • These bubbles can cause damage to tissues and nerves
  • If bubbles are present in the brain then can cause paralysis or even death


  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems, such as double vision

Important Terms Related to Respiratory Disorders


  • (Eu - good) + (pnea - breathing) i.e., normal breathing


  • Slow breathing or an abnormally low respiratory rate


  • Deep and rapid breathing


  • Cessation of breathing or no breathing


  • Abnormally rapid and shallow breathing
  • Respiratory rate is greater than the normal rate.


  • Slow breathing.
  • Respiratory rate is slower than the normal rate.


  • Shortness of breath
  • Also, painful breathing
  • Known as air hunger


  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing when lying down.
  • Commonly seen in asthma.


  • Lack of oxygen in the body.
  • Or the presence of chemicals that disturbs the process of oxygen transfer, like CO in blood.


  • Shortage of oxygen in the tissue.


  • It is increase in carbon dioxide content in blood


  • A condition in which there is a deficient supply of oxygen in the body due to abnormal breathing.

Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs

Q1.What is hay fever?

Allergic rhinitis is also known as hay fever.

Q2.What are the symptoms of bronchitis?
Symptoms of bronchitis are cough with phlegm, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort

Q3. What are major causes of emphysema?
Excessive cigarette smoking and pollution are the major causes of emphysema.

Q4.What is the main cause of asthma?
- It occurs due to allergic reactions that affect the respiratory tract.
- Allergens that trigger can be pollen, dust, danders etc.

Q5. Give two examples of occupational lung disorders.
- Silicosis and asbestosis are two examples of occupational lung disorders
- Caused due to continuous exposure to silica and asbestos at workplace

Q6. What causes tuberculosis?
It is caused by an acid fast bacillus, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Q7. What is the effect of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on P50?
- In COPD patients, gaseous exchange is difficult, so P50 is high.
- P50 indicates partial pressure of oxygen at which 50% of haemoglobin is saturated with oxygen

Q8. What causes mountain sickness?
Reduced atmospheric pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitude causes mountain sickness

Q9. What happens to the body in decompression sickness?

  • Divers breathe compressed air containing nitrogen
  • Underwater in higher pressure, nitrogen diffuses into the body’s tissue
  • If diver rises to the surface suddenly then nitrogen gas has no time to escape, thus it forms bubbles in the body
  • These bubbles can cause damage to tissues and nerves, and can even cause paralysis or death if bubbles are formed in the brain

Q10. What is the difference between tachypnea and hyperpnea?

  • Tachypnea is greater respiratory rate than normal rate
  • In hyperpnea breathing is rapid but rate may or may not increase

Q11. What is hypoxia?
It is a condition of oxygen shortage in the tissues

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