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Respiratory problems most often affect the lungs and make it difficult to breathe, which can dramatically alter quality of life. Various factors can cause a respiratory problem, including a virus, bacteria, allergen or an environmental factor like cigarette smoke. In some instances, breathing problems are caused by a problem with the heart rather than the lungs.

Causes of Respiratory Problems

Many lung and breathing problems are due to an infection from a virus or bacteria. In most cases, these types of respiratory problems are short-lived and can be treated with medication. The flu, pneumonia and tuberculosis are a few of many respiratory problems that match this description. In some instances, these infections are dangerous, so it’s best to have them treated by a doctor.

People can also develop breathing problems as a complication of allergies. This primarily is in the form of asthma, a disease in which the airways begin to narrow when exposed to an irritating allergen.

Some respiratory problems are chronic, lifelong disorders. For example, people may develop emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after many years of smoking cigarettes. Environmental exposures to dust and other irritants can also lead to these problems. Breathing problems can also result from heart disease, when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to supply the body with oxygen. And, stress and anxiety also cause breathing problems in some.

Treatment of Respiratory Problems

Treatment for respiratory problems depends on the cause. Some lung infections can be treated with antibiotics or other medication, or the person may need to rest until the virus goes away. Asthma can be managed with long-term control medications, and quick-relief rescue medications can stop an asthma attack when it occurs. For diseases such as emphysema and COPD, there is no cure. However, medications and self-care strategies can still help people live comfortably, even with their conditions.

SOURCES: U.S. National Library of Medicine

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