Frequently asked questions about lung diseases

Written by: Dr Grace Robinson
Published: | Updated: 10/05/2023
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

What are the most common lung diseases?

Viral infections that cause a cough and a runny nose for a few days are extremely common. Most of us will get a viral infection at least once a year and now we are a lot more familiar with viral infections due to  the COVID-19 pandemic.


Viral infections can make you feel generally unwell for a few days. However, the cough may last around a week or perhaps longer. If you have a cough which lasts longer than 3-4 weeks, you should seek medical advice.




Asthma is common and can manifest as a cough, alongside other symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing and chest tightness. Sometimes asthma can be related to exposure to an allergen such as cats or horses. It can start at any age and is sometimes more common in people with an allergic tendency such as hayfever or eczema.




Cigarette smoking can cause a lung disease named COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). In order to reduce the impact of COPD, you must stop smoking, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Alongside these factors, it is often recommended to take inhalers in order to help with the breathlessness which is commonly associated with the disease.


Pneumonia, bronchitis, lower respiratory tract infections


Pneumoniabronchitis and lower respiratory tract infection are also common lung conditions. People with these infections often have a cough with discoloured sputum, sometimes coughing up blood. They also may experience chest pain, fever and breathlessness. The symptoms should improve with antibiotics, but if they do not you should seek advice. If you are coughing up blood, you should request a chest x-ray and review by a doctor.


Obstructive sleep apnoea


Another common lung disease is obstructive sleep apnoea. Around 4% of men in the UK have this condition, which encompasses loud snoring, with episodes of breath holding over night (apnoea). It causes tiredness and sleepiness during the daytime because sleep is disrupted. These symptoms should always be assessed by a health professional, who can assess whether treatment is required. For most people this is CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) treatment - a mask attached to a machine over night to restore sleep back to normal.


Chronic cough is also very common. This can be due to a number of factors, such as following a viral infection, due to asthma or heartburn /reflux.


What are warning signs of lung disease?

Warning signs of lung diseases will depend on the cause of the lung disease. However many conditions cause cough, breathlessness and sometimes pain. If someone experiences any of these symptoms for more than 2-3 weeks (particularly if they are a smoker or a former smoker) they should undergo further assessment in the form of a chest x-ray. Sometimes breathing tests are required.


Who is most likely to suffer from a lung disease?

Lung conditions can affect anyone and minor conditions are very common. However, effective treatments are available for the vast majority of lung conditions.


That being said, smokers are much more likely to be affected. Weight gain and being less physically active can also make breathlessness (and sometimes cough) worse.


How can I lower the risk of developing a lung disease?

For the majority of lung conditions, there is nothing you can do to prevent them except the usual general health advice, which includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and regular cardiovascular exercise. UK national guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a mixture of both per week.


Viral infections can be reduced through maintaining good hand hygiene, as well as taking the annual flu jab. More vulnerable groups such as older people and those with chronic lung disease should also have a one off pneumonia vaccine.


Is it possible to live a normal life with a chronic lung disease?

Living a normal life with a chronic lung disease is possible. For the majority of people, long-term symptoms from a chronic lung disease are manageable on a day to day basis. There may be periods when symptoms flare up and a specialist review or even hospital admission may be required. However, the majority of people will live a normal day to day life, usually with long-term treatments such as inhalers.



If you are concerned about chronic lung diseases and would like to discuss this further with Dr Robinson, you can book an appointment via her Top Doctors profile today.

By Dr Grace Robinson
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

Dr Grace Robinson is a leading specialist in Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine based in Reading. Her areas of expertise include acute and chronic cough, breathlessness, asthma, lung infections, COPD, lung cancer, sleep apnoea and snoring. She also has a sub-specialty interest in sleep and ventilation and bronchiectasis.

Dr Robinson qualified from St Mary's Hospital Medical School at the University of London in 1995 and went on to complete her general medical and respiratory training in Oxford. During her six years of training in Oxford, she held a position as a research training fellow at the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine where she researched the cardiovascular effects of sleep apnoea and was awarded her Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.

Since then, she has obtained a position as an NHS consultant in General and Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and is a member of the British Thoracic Society Sleep Specialist Advisory Group. She also currently practices privately at the Spire Dunedin Hospital in Reading specialising in outpatient consultations for the diagnosis and management of all respiratory conditions.

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