Breathing & Lung Problems

Lung and breathing problems can occur due to such respiratory illnesses and conditions as asthma, pneumonia, collapsed lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 24. Inflamed and swollen lungs and airways make breathing difficult and cause chest pains, coughing and other symptoms. Seeking treatment for breathing and lung problems as soon as symptoms arise can help you avoid complications or worsening of your condition.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes swelling, inflammation and extra mucus in your airways. The swelling narrows the passages in your lungs, making it harder to breathe. More than 22 million people have asthma in the U.S., including 6 million children, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute 1. In addition to breathing difficulties, asthma can cause wheezing, tightness in the chest and coughing. Doctors treat asthma with daily medication, such as inhaled corticosteroids and quick-relief inhalers to provide immediate relief of symptoms.


Pneumonia causes a lung inflammation due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Pneumonia can occur as a complication of another illness, such as the flu. Although pneumonia can occur at any age, you may be more likely to develop pneumonia if you have a chronic respiratory illness, are older than age 65, have a disease that compromises your immune system or take medications that suppress the immune system, such as chemotherapy drugs. Doctors treat bacterial pneumonia with antibiotics and recommend drinking clear fluids and resting to treat viral pneumonia. Antifungal medications can help you recover from fungal pneumonia.

Collapsed Lung

A collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, occurs when air builds up in the space between the pleura, a two-layer membrane that surrounds the lungs 4. The air presses on the lung, causing a collapse. Symptoms include shortness of breath and a sharp pain in the chest that worsens if you cough or take a deep breath. A collapsed lung can occur due to a chest or lung injury or a rib fracture, or may happen after a medical procedure on the lungs 4. Participation in certain activities, such as scuba diving or hiking in high altitudes, may also trigger a pneumothorax. If you have a small pneumothorax, you may not require any treatment, other than rest and oxygen therapy. In some cases, your doctor may remove the extra air in the pleura with a needle. Treatment of a large pneumothorax may require the insertion of a chest tube to remove the air and oxygen treatment. Surgery may be needed in more severe cases.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis are part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a disease that affects approximately 12 million people in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Family Physicians 2. The disease causes inflamed bronchial tubes and, increased mucus production, and results in the stiffening of air sacs in the lung. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath that worsens with activity, coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest. Doctors treat COPD with inhaled medication and antibiotics as needed. If you have a serious case of COPD, you may need to use oxygen or may require lung reduction or lung transplant surgery.