Chronic Lung Diseases: Causes and Risk Factors

When you think of chronic lung disease, you may think of lung cancer, but there are actually many different types. Altogether, lung diseases accounted for more than 1 million deaths in the U.S. in 2010, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

These types of lung diseases may affect your airways, lung tissues, or circulation of blood in and out of your lungs. Here are the most common types, their causes and risk factors, and potential symptoms that may signal the need for medical attention.


Asthma is one of the most common types of chronic lung disease. When triggered, your lungs become swollen and narrow, making it harder to breathe. Symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • being unable to take in enough air
  • coughing
  • feeling tightness in your chest

If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away. Triggers may include allergens, dust, pollution, stress, and exercise.

Asthma usually starts in childhood, though it can begin later. It can’t be cured, but medications can help control symptoms. The disease affects about 26 million Americans and tends to run in families.

Most people with asthma can manage it fine and enjoy full and healthy lives. Without treatment, though, the disease can be deadly. It kills about 3,300 people annually in the United States.

Doctors don’t know yet why some people get asthma and others don’t. But they believe that genetics play a large role. If someone in your family has it, your risk goes up.

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