Lung Diseases

Types and Causes

What are Lung Diseases?

Lung disease refers to disorders that affect the lungs, the organs that allow us to breathe. Breathing problems caused by lung disease may prevent the body from getting enough oxygen. Examples of lung diseases are:

  • Asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema
  • Infections, such as influenza and pneumonia
  • Lung cancer
  • Sarcoidosis (sar-KOY-doh-sis) and pulmonary fibrosis

Lung disease is a major concern for women. The number of U.S. women diagnosed with lung disease is on the rise. More women are also dying from lung disease.

Types of Lung Diseases

  • Asthma: The airways are persistently inflamed, and may occasionally spasm, causing wheezing and shortness of breath.Allergies, infections, or pollution can trigger asthma's symptoms.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Lung conditions defined by an inability to exhale normally, which causes difficulty breathing.
  • Chronic bronchitis: A form of COPD characterized by a chronic productive cough.
  • Emphysema: Lung damage allows air to be trapped in the lungs in this form of COPD. Difficulty blowing air out is its hallmark.
  • Acute bronchitis: A sudden infection of the airways, usually by a virus.
  • Cystic fibrosis: A genetic condition causing poor clearance of mucus from the bronchi. The accumulated mucus results in repeated lung infections.


Experts don't know the causes of all types of lung disease, but they do know the causes of some. These include:

  • Smoking. Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is the number one cause of lung disease. Don't start smoking, or quit if you already smoke. If you live or work with a smoker, avoid secondhand smoke. Ask smokers to smoke outdoors. Secondhand smoke is especially bad for babies and young children.
  • Radon. This colorless, odorless gas is present in many homes and is a recognized cause of lung cancer. You can check for radon with a kit bought at many hardware stores. Radon can be reduced in your home if you find out there are high levels.
  • Asbestos. This is natural mineral fiber that is used in insulation, fireproofing materials, car brakes, and other products. Asbestos can give off small fibers that are too small to be seen and can be inhaled. Asbestos harms lung cells, causing lung scarring and lung cancer. It can cause mesothelioma (MEZ-oh-THEE-lee-OH-muh), which is a cancer that forms in the tissue covering the lungs and many other organs of the body.
  • Air pollution. Recent studies suggest that some air pollutants like car exhaust may contribute to asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and other lung diseases.

Some diseases that affect the lungs, like the flu, are caused by germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi).