Dr. Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, is a healthcare educator and System Chair of the Department of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Kraft’s research is focused on airway and respiratory diseases, and in the following article, Dr. Kraft explains the less common airway illnesses that impact respiratory health.
Asthma is the most common respiratory disease among both children and adults. However, there are other respiratory diseases that affect the lives of millions of Americans.
Recognizing the symptoms of these diseases, as well as exploring risk factors and considering available and developing treatments, may help patients better understand how they occur and can be effectively managed.
Monica Kraft Discusses COPD
With as many as 35 million Americans living with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, it remains one of the most serious illnesses plaguing the country.
The term is used to describe one of two main lung illnesses: emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. These diseases lead to airway narrowing and lung destruction, reducing the flow of oxygen and leading to toxicity.
Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, says that around 80% of all cases of COPD are linked to smoking, but there are other causes, such as long-term employment in industries that expose workers to toxic fumes or living in housing with ventilation issues. There are also hereditary forms of COPD that coupled with smoking, leads to severe disease.
It is also thought that there is a link between asthma and COPD; long-standing asthma, especially in the setting of smoking, can lead to further airway narrowing and symptoms of shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheeze less responsive to bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications. This can result in emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
COPD remains incurable, and doctors continue to stress the importance of prevention while they search for a cure. However, it can be managed with a good assessment by a pulmonologist (lung specialist) as several treatments are available and more are on the horizon.
Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, notes that lung cancer is the world’s second most common cancer but the leading cause of cancer death.
High mortality rates associated with the disease are often the result of how difficult it can be to detect lung cancer; therefore, it is more likely to be diagnosed until it is more advanced. The best approach to reducing one’s risk is to stop smoking tobacco or never start. It is not clear how regular vaping or marijuana use can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Monica Kraft notes that, while smokers remain those who are most at risk often in the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer can also develop in people with no history of tobacco use, even if they live in an area with good air quality.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the specific type of cancer: the two main types are small cell and non-small cell. Doctors utilize a variety of treatment methods for these, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted therapy. There have been many advancements made in the last several years to treat certain types of lung cancer which is very encouraging.
Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, explains that even though many lung diseases are caused by external risk factors such as smoking or poor air quality, some diseases develop purely because of genetic factors. One such disease is cystic fibrosis (CF).
CF occurs when a defective gene carried by both parents is passed onto a child who is born with the condition, which causes thick mucus to clog up both the respiratory and digestive systems.
While treatments include mucus-thinning drugs and immune-boosting therapies, along with physical therapies to help keep the airways as clear as possible, cystic fibrosis is a degenerative disease for which there is currently no cure. However, there have been huge advancements in the care of patients with CF, as well as treatment advanced for CF caused by certain types of genetic mutations. The life expectancy for CF has increased dramatically and now patients with CF are living into their 50s and 60s.
A few years ago, contracting pneumonia would have almost certainly been a death sentence. Today, though, it may still be a serious disease, but it responds well to treatment. A combination of antibiotics, plenty of rest, and increase in fluid intake serve as the most common treatments.
Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, says that pneumonia is a condition whereby the air sacs in the lungs become infected. This infection can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus, and for fit and healthy people who are affected by the disease, early detection and treatment can mean a full recovery within only a week or two.
However, pneumonia can strike quickly and be especially dangerous for those whose immune systems are already compromised. This means that babies, older people, and those who suffer from chronic illnesses can die from pneumonia if the sickness takes hold quickly.
Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, notes that many doctors recommend for those over the age of 65 to get annual flu shots, as well as available pneumococcal vaccines, to give them the best chance of warding off the disease, especially during the winter season.