Common Respiratory Disorders & Diseases

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Can you name a few common respiratory disorders and diseases? You probably thought of the common cold or flu. But there are other ones and this lesson delineates some important things about them.

Respiratory System

Inhale. Exhale. Good. That breath just traveled from your nose, into your throat, into the windpipe, and then into the lungs. Then, as you exhaled, everything reversed. You just used your respiratory system to help you breathe and thus live! But that system is subject to a wide swath of disorders and diseases. Since we can't possibly cover them all, we'll cover some common and commonly known respiratory problems instead.

The Cold & Flu

Every winter you probably get either the cold or the flu. The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection. The upper respiratory tract includes the likes of your nasal cavity and throat. Colds are caused by microorganisms called viruses. The most common cause of the common cold is known as the Rhinovirus. 'Rhino-' means nose, just like the rhinoceros has a prominent horn on its nose. That should help you remember this virus.

Besides the common cold, you might get the flu, or influenza. Again, it's easy to remember this since in'flu'enza already has the word 'flu' in it! Like the common cold, the flu is caused by one of many viruses broadly known as influenza viruses. Easy enough to remember too. The main types that cause the seasonal flu are known as influenza type A and influenza type B. Again, simple stuff.

Influenza virus as seen under an electron microscope.

Pneumonia & Tuberculosis

If only those pesky bouts of cold and flu were the only respiratory problems we had to worry about! Alas, that is not the case. Take, for example, two well-known examples of lower respiratory tract disease. The lower respiratory tract includes the trachea (windpipe) as well as the lungs.

One of the possible disorders affecting the lungs is known as pneumonia. Pneumon- means lungs and -ia refers to some sort of abnormal state or condition. However, when we talk about pneumonia, we really refer to a condition where the lungs are really inflamed, most commonly as a result of infectious causes. Those infectious causes are most commonly viruses and bacteria.

Examples of these include the influenza virus you just learned about, as well as the easy to remember Streptococcus pneumoniae, since it has pneumonia right in its name.

A bacterium is also responsible for a potentially fatal disease that mainly affects the lungs. This bacterium, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis is aptly named as well because it causes tuberculosis. Tuberculosis can cause a very long term cough, chest pain, and may even affect the brain and kidneys! Fortunately there is a preventative vaccine available.

An illustration of the lungs of a person with tuberculosis.

Asthma & Tumors

If you gasped at that, it's hopefully not because you have another respiratory disorder, one that causes people shortness of breath. It's called asthma, an allergy disorder that causes the airways of the lungs to constrict. This makes it very difficult for people to breathe. Just imagine using a straw to breathe and then narrowing that straw even more! Unfortunately, asthma cannot be cured but people who have this condition can be helped a lot with medication that widens the airways in order to help them breathe better.

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