COUGH, SNEEZE, SNIFFLE – RESPIRATORY ILLNESSES
Respiratory conditions are common in the developed world, with millions of people suffering from genetic or environmentally-influenced respiratory illness. Our doctors at London Doctors Clinic are able to assist with all such illnesses, from asthma to allergy treatment, coughs to COPD.
Before we talk in more detail about the most common illnesses in this category, let’s make certain we understand what a respiratory illness is:
A respiratory condition is a “catch all” term for a number of medical illnesses that affect the organs we use to breathe. So, any disorder which affects the respiratory (breathing) system is a respiratory illness.
How Do We Breath?
The respiratory system is composed of the nose, throat, windpipe, the pipes that conduct air down into the lungs (bronchi), the lungs themselves, and the tiny air pockets in the lungs (alveoli).
The function of alveoli is to allow for exchange of gases: the carbon dioxide (that we breathe out) and oxygen (which we breathe in).
And let’s not forget all the nerves and muscles (such as the diaphragm and intercostal muscles) of breathing either!
As we can see, then, a respiratory illness that can affect a great many organs and tissues of the body, and can make the work of breathing much more difficult.
Breathing is a complicated process, with many different body-parts involved - all of which can be affected by respiratory infection or disease
What Is A Respiratory Illness?
Respiratory illness can be classified depending on the length of time it lasts for (acute or chronic), or by the part of the respiratory system it affects (upper or lower). Lung diseases can also be either obstructive or restrictive.
Obstructive & Restrictive Lung Diseases
Obstructive lung disease is characterised by airway narrowing, whereby the pipes that transport fresh air into the lungs become blocked and narrower
Restrictive lung disease, however, results in a loss of the lungs' ability to expand and stretch, and a stiffer lung overall.
In any case, having a respiratory illness can be a real drag. Luckily, most respiratory illnesses are caused by factors that we have the power to control – smoking and infection.
Common lung diseases caused by infection include upper and lower respiratory tract infections, and a widespread lung disease in long-term smokers is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. We can avoid experiencing the worst of these diseases by taking simple measures such as washing our hands regularly or by stopping smoking (or better yet, don’t start!).
Not all respiratory infections are environmentally-induced: asthma is often inherited, although can be aggravated by environmental toxins such as smoke
Throughout this week we will be bringing you a series of helpful articles on various respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and asthma, so stay tuned for more information coming your way! But for now, let’s talk about some of the general symptoms of lung diseases, with a focus on one of the main ones – a cough.
Respiratory Illness Symptoms
If you think you might be suffering with a respiratory illness, watch out for any of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Sputum production
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Other symptoms, such as sneezing or runny nose, temperature, weight loss, or tiredness
Of course, keep in mind that you are unlikely to experience all of these symptoms, and the ones you have will depend on the type and severity of your illness.
The Most Common Symptom: A Cough
One of the most common (and irritating!) symptoms of a respiratory tract illness (typically an infection) is a cough. A cough can make you feel pretty miserable, especially if it keeps you awake at night, resulting in daytime sleepiness.
We develop a cough to help us to clear our airways of irritants, such as mucus. There are two types of cough – dry and chesty. Most of us will have experienced both. A dry cough - often referred to as “tickly” does not produce any phlegm (mucus). A chesty cough will produce phlegm, in an effort to clear your airways.
Should I Be Concerned About My Cough?
A cough is rarely a sign of anything serious, and will usually resolve on its own, often without treatment. If your cough is causing you discomfort or resulting in lost hours of precious sleep, you can manage it with over the counter remedies from your local pharmacy, such as medicated throat lozenges or cough syrup. Raising your head while you sleep can also help, as can a warm drink before bed-time.
If a cough lasts longer than one month, it is considered chronic. Common causes of a chronic cough include:
- Acid reflux from the stomach.
A cough that doesn’t resolve after four weeks should be investigated by your GP, especially if you have other symptoms such as bloody sputum, weight loss or difficulty breathing, as these can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition.
We'll be posting multiple blog posts all throughout this week, focusing on different aspects of respiratory illnesses. For more information, or to discuss your concerns with a private doctor, why not book an appointment at our GP surgery today? With eight convenient private clinics around Central London, you should never be too far away when you're in search of a "GP near me"!
By Melissa Dillon