What Are the Most Common Types of Respiratory Disease? (2023)

The most common respiratory diseases are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema.

Some respiratory diseases are acute, like an infection that will get better with treatment, while others are or become chronic and need to be managed.

Many types of lung diseases can cause chronic respiratory conditions. Chronic respiratory disease affects millions of people in the United States alone. It can be difficult to say how many people have lung diseases overall because these diseases are grouped into specific conditions.

Many genetic and environmental factors can lead to lung disease, but smoking is the top preventable cause of many respiratory conditions.

This article will look at the eight most common respiratory diseases, their symptoms, and what causes them.

What Are the Most Common Types of Respiratory Disease? (1)

Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease


Asthma affects 25 million people in the United States. People with a family history of asthma, respiratory allergies, or severe childhood respiratory illness are at a higher risk of developing asthma.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes breathing problems when the airways become narrowed by inflammation or blocked by mucus. The condition’s severity varies from person to person, but most people take daily preventive medication to control their symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?


Asthma can have several symptoms, including:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath

Asthma Treatment Options

(Video) Diseases of the Respiratory System

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe two primary types of obstructive lung disease that used to be classified separately: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

  • Emphysema develops when the tiny air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) become damaged and less elastic. This reduces the ability of the sacs to move oxygen and other gases between the air that is breathed in and the blood. This can lead to a lack of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia) and a buildup of toxic waste products.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes irritated and inflamed. The swelling can make it more difficult to breathe and cause an overproduction of mucus.

Nearly 15 million people have been diagnosed with COPD in the United States, and another 12 million are believed to have the disease but do not have an official diagnosis.

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. About eight in 10 cases are linked to exposure to cigarette smoke.


The symptoms of COPD vary based on which type you have. Common symptoms can include:

  • A frequent or chronic cough
  • A cough that produces a lot of mucus
  • Wheezing
  • A squeaking or whistling sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath that is worse with activity
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Sensitivity to respiratory infections like colds or the flu
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Swelling in your legs and feet
  • A blue tinge to your lips or fingernails (cyanosis)

How COPD Is Treated

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition that affects about 35,000 people in the United States. It can cause both breathing and digestive problems because the disease makes the mucus in the body very thick.

While the disease can involve several organs, it tends to cause specific problems in the lungs, such as blockages from thick mucus that trap harmful bacteria and lead to infections.

A diagnosis of CF is usually made early in life because newborns in the United States are screened for the disease. If a diagnosis is not made at birth, symptoms that occur in childhood can lead to the diagnosis later on.

What Is Cystic Fibrosis?


Since cystic fibrosis can affect many parts of the body, a wide range of symptoms can develop, such as:

  • A cough that does not go away
  • A cough that produces thick mucus or blood
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent respiratory or sinus infections
  • Nasal polyps
  • Slow growth in childhood or poor weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Greasy or foul-smelling stools

Living Well With Cystic Fibrosis

(Video) Types of pulmonary diseases | Respiratory system diseases | NCLEX-RN | Khan Academy

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, ranking third in the United States with more than 218,000 people affected. It can develop as either small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer, which is the more common of the two.

Cigarette smoking—both direct and secondhand—is one of the biggest risk factors for lung cancer.

The Different Types of Lung Cancer


Lung cancer can develop gradually and often with no symptoms. When it does appear, symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A cough that produces bloody mucus
  • Swelling in the face or neck

How Cancer Is Treated


Tuberculosis is a bacterial lung disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. More than 1.8 billion people around the world have tuberculosis, but the disease is only considered active in 10 million of them.

People with strong immune systems sometimes carry an inactive form of the disease, called latent tuberculosis. In people with weaker immune systems, the bacteria attacks lung tissue. It can also spread and cause damage to other parts of the body.

An Overview of Tuberculosis


Many respiratory diseases share symptoms, such as long-term cough. Certain symptoms are specific to one disease or another. For example, night sweats tend to occur in people with tuberculosis.

Other tuberculosis symptoms include:

  • A cough that lasts longer than three weeks
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • A cough that brings up blood or mucus
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

How Is Tuberculosis Treated?


Bronchitis is a condition that develops when the windpipe (bronchial tube) gets irritated or inflamed. In response to the inflammation, the lining of the bronchial tube may make too much mucus as it tries to coat the area. The mucus can make it difficult to breath.

(Video) Disorders of Respiratory Physiology – Other Respiratory Disorders | Lecturio

Inflammation can also cause swelling of the airway. This will cause it to narrow and makes it harder to breathe.

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. There are some key differences between the two forms:

  • In acute bronchitis, the inflammation is usually caused by an infection that will get better in a few days to several weeks.
  • With chronic bronchitis, the inflammation is caused by repeated exposure to irritants—like cigarette smoke or pollution. Chronic bronchitis does not go away. You may have periods of relief along with periods where it gets worse (exacerbations), especially if you get a cold or another respiratory infection.

What Is Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease?


Chronic bronchitis falls under the umbrella of COPD. Acute bronchitis is not considered COPD, but it shares symptoms with the chronic form of the disease. These symptoms include:

  • A frequent cough that produces mucus
  • Wheezing
  • A whistling or squeaking sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath (especially with activity)
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Fever (acute bronchitis only)

How Chronic Bronchitis Is Treated


Pneumonia is a generic diagnosis. Even though there are different types of pneumonia, the way that the condition affects the lungs is similar in each one.

With pneumonia, a virus, bacteria, or another infectious agent causes the tiny air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) to fill with fluid or pus. These air sacs are what help exchange oxygen and other gases between the air that is breathed in and the blood. When these sacs are filled with fluid, the body’s ability to exchange gases is reduced.

The several types of pneumonia are:

  • Viral
  • Bacterial
  • Mycoplasma (also called “walking pneumonia”)
  • Fungal
  • Aspiration

What Is Pneumonia?


In some types of pneumonia, such as walking pneumonia, the symptoms can be mild and not affect daily activities. However, the symptoms of pneumonia can be severe and, in some cases, will require hospitalization.

Common symptoms of pneumonia are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • A cough that produces phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when you cough or breathe
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Pneumonia Treatment Options

(Video) Types of respiratory diseases


Emphysema is a type of COPD that occurs when the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs lose their elasticity. These sacs are made to inflate and shrink and stretch with each breath, which allows air to move in and out of them.

If you have emphysema, these sacs have been damaged and cannot stretch when you breathe. As these air sacs become damaged and die off, your lungs have fewer working parts to move oxygen from the air you breathe into your blood.

Smoking is a leading contributor to emphysema, but exposure to other pollutants and chemicals can also cause it. Age and obesity are also risk factors for emphysema.

An Overview of Emphysema


With early emphysema, you may not notice any symptoms. As the disease progresses, the symptoms can become more severe and may include:

  • Frequent coughing
  • A cough that produces a lot of mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with activity
  • A whistling or squeaking sound when you breathe
  • Tightness in your chest

Is It Chronic Bronchitis or Emphysema?


There are several types of lung diseases that can affect your breathing and cause chronic symptoms like cough. Many of these diseases share symptoms.

If you have a cough that won’t go away or you are experiencing frequent shortness of breath, call your doctor. They can do testing to confirm what type of lung disease is causing your respiratory problems and may refer you to a doctor that specifically treats lung disease (pulmonologist).

Why Do You Keep Getting Respiratory Infections As an Adult?

A Word From Verywell

Your lungs work to supply your body with oxygen and remove waste gases every second of your life. As much as these workhorses are tough, the tissues that your lungs are made of are delicate and vulnerable to damage.

While some lung diseases, like asthma, are not necessarily avoidable, you can reduce your chances of developing others by making lifestyle changes.

For example, smoking is one of the biggest risks to your lung health. Not only can smoking cause cancer, it can also damage lung tissue and lead to chronic respiratory diseases. Quitting smoking is one preventive step that you can take to reduce your risk of many common lung diseases.

Tips for Quitting Smoking If You Have COPD

(Video) Respiratory Diseases and Disorders PART 1 - Intro and URIs


What is the most common respiratory disease? ›

The two most common chronic respiratory diseases are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These both affect the airways in the lungs. Asthma is characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing due to airway narrowing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.

What are the 5 most common types of respiratory diseases? ›

Respiratory diseases include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, and lung cancer.

What are the 7 respiratory diseases? ›

Types of Respiratory Diseases
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD) If you are a smoker or inhale tobacco in any form, you are most likely to suffer from this disease. ...
  • Asthma. ...
  • Emphysema. ...
  • Lung Cancer. ...
  • Pneumonia. ...
  • Pleural Effusion. ...
  • Chronic Bronchitis.
Sep 29, 2020

What are the 7 most common types of lung disease? ›

The most common lung diseases include:
  • Asthma.
  • Collapse of part or all of the lung (pneumothorax or atelectasis)
  • Swelling and inflammation in the main passages (bronchial tubes) that carry air to the lungs (bronchitis)
  • COPD.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)

What are the most common respiratory viruses? ›

Respiratory viruses can also cause the common cold.
Types of Respiratory Viruses:
  • Adenovirus.
  • Coronaviruses (Common Cold Viruses)
  • Influenza (Flu)
  • Parainfluenza.
  • Parvovirus B19 (Fifth Disease)
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
  • Rhinovirus (Common Cold)

What are the two most common respiratory infections? ›

Four of the most common types of respiratory infections are COVID-19, the flu, pneumococcal disease, and colds.

What are the 3 common diseases of the respiratory system? ›

The most common respiratory diseases are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema.

What are the common respiratory disease symptoms? ›

Common Respiratory Disease Symptoms
  • Difficulty Breathing. While it's common to feel a shortness of breath during exercise, if it doesn't go away—or is present when you aren't exerting yourself—you should be concerned. ...
  • Stubborn Cough. ...
  • Breathing Noisily. ...
  • Lingering Chest Pain. ...
  • Chronic Mucus. ...
  • Coughing Up Blood.
Apr 17, 2018

What are the most common COPD diseases? ›

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD . These two conditions usually occur together and can vary in severity among individuals with COPD .

What do you mean by respiratory diseases? ›

respiratory disease, any of the diseases and disorders of the airways and the lungs that affect human respiration. bronchioles of the lungs. Related Topics: tuberculosis influenza lung cancer COVID-19 respiratory syncytial virus infection.

What are 4 most common cause of respiratory distress? ›

The most common cause of ARDS is sepsis, a serious and widespread infection of the bloodstream. Inhalation of harmful substances. Breathing high concentrations of smoke or chemical fumes can result in ARDS , as can inhaling (aspirating) vomit or near-drowning episodes. Severe pneumonia.

What is a common bacterial respiratory disease? ›

Pneumonia is the most common bacterial lower respiratory infection. It's an infection that inflames air sacs in one or both lungs—these air sacs may fill with fluid or pus. Pneumonia symptoms include: Cough that produces phlegm or pus. Fever.

What is the respiratory disease that has no cure? ›

Pulmonary fibrosis is a rare lung disease that causes irreversible scarring of the lungs, which can cause shortness of breath and a persistent cough, and progressively gets worse over time. And because there is no cure, a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis can bring up a lot of emotions for both patients and caregivers.

What are 3 chronic respiratory diseases? ›

Chronic respiratory diseases are chronic diseases of the airways and other parts of the lung. Some of the most common are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea and occupational lung diseases.

What is the rare respiratory disease? ›

Lymphangioleiomyomatosis: With lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), smooth muscle cells block your airways and cysts form on your lungs. This causes problems with breathing. Gene mutations (changes) lead to LAM. One of these gene changes is hereditary (passed down through families) and one has unknown causes.

What respiratory diseases are not curable? ›

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), is an incurable lung disease in which scars are formed in the lung tissues. It is a devastating condition characterised by increasing breathlessness, disability and death three to four years after diagnosis. Only 25% of people survive for five years.

What diseases make it hard to breathe? ›

In the case of shortness of breath that has lasted for weeks or longer (called chronic), the condition is most often due to:
  • Asthma.
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) worsening of symptoms.
  • Deconditioning.
  • Heart dysfunction.
  • Interstitial lung disease.
  • Obesity.

What viruses cause shortness of breath? ›

The flu virus affects the nose, throat and lungs, and can lead to serious lung infections, such as pneumonia. Other common types of respiratory viruses include rhinovirus/enterovirus, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus and adenovirus.

What causes lung inflammation? ›

In the lung, inflammation is usually caused by pathogens or by exposure to toxins, pollutants, irritants, and allergens. During inflammation, numerous types of inflammatory cells are activated. Each releases cytokines and mediators to modify activities of other inflammatory cells.


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