Information on lung diseases that affect the airways, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and more.

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Types and Causes of Lung Diseases - Diseases Affecting the Airways


(JANUARY 2014) A number of diseases adversely affect lung function. Some impact the airways or lung tissues directly while others impede normal breathing by transforming structures around the lungs. Together, they represent some of the most common health conditions in the United States. Causes range from genetics and infections to environmental influences and smoking.


When you inhale, the breath travels through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (or trachea) and into the lungs. Once inside the lungs, the breath moves through progressively smaller tubes to deliver oxygen throughout the organ and then into the bloodstream. When you exhale, the process reverses, eliminating carbon monoxide and other waste products. Diseases that can affect the airways include:


Asthma is a long-term lung disease in which airways are constantly inflamed and narrowed. When they spasm, asthma sufferers experience wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. More than 25 million people in the U.S. are known to have asthma. Nearly 30% of asthma sufferers are children. Both genetic and environmental factors play roles in developing asthma.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a progressive disease meaning it gets worse over time. People with COPD often find it very difficult to exhale normally and may experience wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing up mucus and other symptoms. The most common cause of COPD is smoking, but irritants including pollution and chemical fumes can also contribute.

Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lead into the lungs. A form of COPD, chronic bronchitis is an ongoing condition. People with chronic bronchitis have a difficult time getting air to and from the lungs and frequently cough up heavy mucus. Smoking is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis, but environmental hazards such as industrial fumes can also be the source.

Acute Bronchitis

The symptoms of acute bronchitis are the same as the chronic version of the disease, but the condition lasts only a relatively short time. Acute bronchitis is most frequently brought on by a virus, including following an upper respiratory infection like a cold or flu. It can occasionally be the result of a bacteria or of inhaling an irritant such as food or vomit.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus. This mucus is difficult to clear from the bronchial tubes and the accumulation results in wheezing, coughing and frequent lung infections. About 1000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed each year.

People with lung disease or other serious medical conditions are encouraged to wear medical ID bracelets to provide critical information to first responders in case of emergency.



Types and Causes of Lung Diseases – Diseases Affecting the Air Sacs (Alveoli)

Types and Causes of Lung Diseases – Diseases Affecting the Other Tissues