18. Respiratory System Disorders

Respiratory System: Disorders

History

Obtaining accurate information from the client is important in determining the type and severity of pulmonary problems.

 

DEMOGRAPHIC DATA

Age, gender, and race can affect the physical and diagnostic findings related to respiratory function. Many of the diagnostic studies relevant to respiratory disorders (e.g., pulmonary function tests) use these demographic data for determining predicted normal values.

 

PERSONAL AND FAMILY HISTORY

Medical History

The nurse asks clients about their own respiratory history and that of their family members. The family history is obtained to consider respiratory disorders with a genetic component, such as cystic fibrosis, some lung cancers, and alpha,-antitrypsin deficiency (one risk factor for emphysema). Clients with asthma often have a family history of allergic symptoms and reactive airways. The nurse assesses for a history of infectious disease, such as tuberculosis, and considers that family members may have similar environmental or occupational exposures.

Smoking History

The nurse questions the client about the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, marijuana, and other controlled substances, and he or she notes whether the client has passive exposure to smoke in the home or workplace. If the client smokes, the nurse asks for how long, how many packs a day, and whether the client has quit smoking (and how long ago). The smoking history is documented in pack-years (number of packs smoked per day multiplied by number of years). Because the client may have guilt or denial about this habit, the nurse assumes a nonjudgmental attitude during the interview.

 

Smoking induces anatomic changes in the large and peripheral airways, and these changes lead to varying degrees of airway obstruction. Men who continue to smoke experience a more rapid decline in their pulmonary function than do non-smokers. The pulmonary function of clients who have quit smoking for 2 or more years appears to decline less rapidly than in clients who continue to smoke.

 

Medication Use

The nurse asks about medications taken for breathing problems and about drugs taken for other conditions. For example, a cough can be a side effect of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. The nurse determines which over-the-counter medications (e.g., cough syrups, antihistamines, decongestants, inhalants, and nasal sprays) the client is using.

 

The use of home remedies also is assessed. The client is asked about past medication use and the reason for its discontinuation. For example, he or she may have used numerous bronchodilator metered dose inhalers but may prefer one particular drug for relieving breathlessness. In addition, some medications for other conditions can cause permanent changes in pulmonary function. For example, clients may have residual pulmonary fibrosis if they received bleomycin (Blenoxane) as chemotherapy for cancer or amiodarone (Cordarone) for cardiac problems.

Allergies

Information about allergies is important to the respiratory history. The nurse determines whether the client has any known allergies to environmental substances such as foods, dust, molds, pollen, bee stings, trees, grass, animal dander and saliva, or medications. The client is asked to explain a specific allergic response. For example, does he or she wheeze, have trouble breathing, cough, sneeze, or experience rhinitis after exposure to the allergen? Has he or she ever been treated for an allergic response? If the client has received treatment for allergies, the nurse asks about the circumstances leading up to the need for treatment, the type of treatment, and the response to treatment.

 

Travel and Area of Residence

Travel and area of residence may be relevant for a history of exposure to certain diseases. For example, histoplasmosis, a fungal disease caused by inhalation of contaminated dust, is found in the central United States, the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys, and Central America. Coccidioidomycosis, another fungal disease, is found predominantly in the western and southwestern United States, Mexico, and portions of Central America.

 

DIET HISTORY

An evaluation of the client's diet history may reveal allergic reactions to certain foods or preservatives. Signs and symptoms range from rhinitis, chest tightness, weakness, shortness of breath, urticaria, and severe wheezing to loss of consciousness. The nurse documents in a prominent location of the client's record any known allergies and the specific type of allergic response experienced. The client is asked about his or her usual food intake and whether any symptoms occur with eating. Malnutrition may occur if he or she has difficulty breathing during eating or the food preparation process.

 

OCCUPATIONAL HISTORY AND SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS

The nurse considers the home, community, and workplace for environmental factors that could cause or contribute to lung disease. Occupational pulmonary diseases include pneumoconiosis, which results from the inhalation of dust (e.g., coal dust, stone dust, silicone dust); toxic lung injury; and hypersensitivity disease (e.g., hypersensitivity to latex). The occupational history includes the exact dates of employment and a brief job description. Exposure to industrial dusts of any type or to the noxious chemicals found in smoke and fumes may cause respiratory disease. Coal miners, stone masons, cotton handlers, welders, potters, plastic and rubber manufacturers, printers, farm workers, and steel foundry workers are among the most susceptible.

The nurse obtains information about the home and living conditions, such as the type of heat used (e.g., gas heater, wood-burning stove, fireplace, and kerosene heater) and exposure to environmental irritants (e.g., noxious fumes, chemicals, animals, birds, and air pollutants). The client is asked about hobbies and leisure activities. Pastimes such as painting, working with ceramics, model airplane building, furniture refinishing, or woodworking may have exposed the client to harmful chemical irritants.

CURRENT HEALTH PROBLEMS

Whether the pulmonary problem is acute or chronic, the chief complaint is likely to include cough, sputum production, chest pain, and shortness of breath at rest or on exertion. During the interview, the nurse explores the history of the present illness, preferably in chronologic order. This analysis of the problem(s) includes the following:

  Onset

  Duration

  Location

  Frequency

  Progressing and radiating patterns

  Quality and number of symptoms

  Aggravating and relieving factors

  Associated signs and symptoms

  Treatments

 

Cough

Cough is the cardinal sign of respiratory disease. The nurse asks the client how long the cough has persisted (e.g., 1 week, 3 months) and whether it occurs at a specific time of day (e.g., on awakening in the morning, which is common in smokers) or in relation to any physical activity. The nurse determines whether the cough is productive or nonproductive, congested, dry, tickling, or hacking.

 

Sputum Production

Sputum production is an important symptom associated with coughing. The nurse notes the duration, color, consistency, odor, and amount of sputum. Sputum may be clear, white, tan, gray or, if infection is present, yellow or green.

The nurse describes the consistency of sputum as thin, thick, watery, or frothy. Smokers with chronic bronchitis have mucoid sputum because of chronic stimulation and hypertrophy of the bronchial glands. Voluminous, pink, frothy sputum is characteristic of pulmonary edema. Pneumococcal pneumonia is often associated with rust-colored sputum, and foul-smelling sputum is often found in anaerobic infections such as a lung abscess. Blood in the sputum (hemoptysis) is most commonly noted in clients with chronic bronchitis or bronchogenic carcinoma. Clients with tuberculosis, pulmonary infarction, bronchial adenoma, or lung abscess may expectorate grossly bloody sputum.

Sputum can be quantified by describing its production in terms of measurements such as teaspoon, tablespoon, and cups or fractions of cups. Normally, the tracheobronchial tree can produce up to 3 ounces (90 mL) of sputum per day. The nurse determines whether sputum production is increasing, possibly from external stimuli (e.g., an irritant in the work setting) or an internal cause (e.g., chronic bronchitis or a pulmonary abscess).

Chest Pain

A detailed description of chest pain helps the nurse differentiate pleural, musculoskeletal, cardiac, and gastrointestinal pain. Because the perception of pain is subjective, pain is analyzed in relation to the characteristics described in the history of the present illness. Coughing, deep breathing, or swallowing usually worsens chest wall pain.

Dyspnea

The perception of dyspnea (difficulty in breathing or breathlessness) is subjective and varies among clients. A client's perception may not be consistent with the severity of the presenting problem. Therefore the nurse determines the type of onset (slow or abrupt), the duration (number of hours, time of day), relieving factors (changes of position, medication use, activity cessation), and evidence of audible sounds (wheezing, crackles, stridor).

The nurse tries to quantify dyspnea by asking whether this symptom interferes with activities of daily living (ADLs) and, if so, how severely. For example, is the client breathless while dressing, showering, shaving, or eating? Does dyspnea on exertion occur after walking one block or climbing one flight of stairs?

The nurse asks about paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND), which involves intermittent dyspnea during sleep, and about orthopnea, which is demonstrated by a shortness of breath that occurs when lying down but is relieved by sitting up. These two conditions are commonly associated with chronic pulmonary disease and left ventricular failure. In PND, the client has a sudden onset of breathing difficulty that is severe enough to awaken the client from sleep.

 

Physical Assessment

ASSESSMENT OF THE NOSE AND SINUSES

The nurse inspects the client's external nose for deformities or tumors and inspects the nostrils for symmetry of size and shape. Nasal flaring may indicate an increased respiratory effort. To observe the interior nose, the nurse asks the client to tilt the head back for a penlight examination. The nurse may use a nasal speculum and nasopharyngeal mirror for a more thorough examination of the nasal cavity.

The nurse inspects for color, swelling, drainage, and bleeding. The mucous membrane of the nose normally appears redder than the oral mucosa, but it may appear pale, engorged, and bluish gray in clients with allergic rhinitis. The nasal septum is checked for evidence of bleeding, perforation, or deviation. Some degree of septal deviation is common in most adults and appears as an S shape, inclining toward one side or the other. A perforated septum is noted if the light shines through the perforation into the opposite nostril; this condition is often found in cocaine users. Nasal polyps, a common cause of obstruction, appear as pale, shiny, gelatinous structures attached to the turbinates.

The nurse occludes one nare at a time to check whether air moves through the nonoccluded side easily. The nose and paranasal sinuses are palpated to detect tenderness or swelling. Only the frontal and maxillary sinuses are readily accessible to clinical examination because the ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses lie deep within the skull. Using the thumbs, the nurse checks for sinus tenderness by pressing upward on the frontal and maxillary areas; both sides are assessed simultaneously. Tenderness in these areas suggests inflammation or acute sinusitis. Tenderness in response to tapping a finger over these areas also indicates inflammation.

Transillumination of the sinuses may be used to detect sinusitis. In a darkened room, the nurse places the bulb of a penlight on the client's cheek (just under the corner of the eye) and observes for light penetration through the roof of the mouth. Normally, a faint glow of light through the bone outlines the sinus. Transillumination is absent or decreased in sinusitis. However, this test is not conclusive for sinusitis.

ASSESSMENT OF THE PHARYNX, TRACHEA, AND LARYNX

Examination of the pharynx begins with inspection of the external structures of the mouth. To examine the structures of the posterior pharynx, the nurse uses a tongue depressor to press down one side of the tongue at a time (to avoid stimulating the gag reflex). As the client says "ah," the nurse notes the rise and fall of the soft palate and uvula and observes for color and symmetry, evidence of discharge (postnasal drainage), edema or ulceration, and tonsillar enlargement or inflammation.

The neck is inspected for symmetry, alignment, masses, swelling, bruises, and the use of accessory neck muscles in breathing. Lymph nodes are palpated for size, shape, mobility, consistency, and tenderness. Tender nodes are usually movable and suggest inflammation. Malignant nodes are often hard and are fixed to the surrounding tissue.

The nurse gently palpates the trachea for deviation, mobility, tenderness, and masses. Firm palpation may elicit coughing or gagging. The space on either side of the trachea should be equal. Many pulmonary disorders cause the trachea to deviate from the midline. Tension pneumothorax, large pleural effusion, mediastinal mass, and neck tumors push the trachea away from the affected area, whereas pneumonectomy, fibrosis, and atelectasis cause a pull toward the affected area. Decreased tracheal mobility may occur with carcinoma or fibro-sis of the mediastinum.

The larynx is usually examined by a specialist with a laryngoscope. The nurse may observe an abnormal voice, especially hoarseness, when there are abnormalities of the larynx.

 

ASSESSMENT OF THE LUNGS AND THORAX

 

 

Inspection

Inspection of the chest begins with an assessment of the anterior and posterior thorax. If possible, the client is in a sitting position during the assessment. He or she should be undressed to the waist and draped for privacy and warmth. The chest is observed by comparing one side with the other. The nurse works from the top (apex) and moves downward toward the base while inspecting for discoloration, scars, lesions, masses, and spinal deformities such as kyphosis, scoliosis, and lordosis.

The nurse observes the rate, rhythm, and depth of inspirations as well as the symmetry of chest movement. An impaired movement or unequal expansion may indicate an underlying disease of the lung or the pleura. The nurse observes the type of breathing (e.g., pursed-lip or diaphragmatic breathing) and the use of accessory muscles. In observing respiration, the nurse documents the duration of the inspiratory (I) and expiratory (E) phases. The ratio of these phases (the I/E ratio) is normally 1:2. A prolonged expiratory phase indicates an obstruction of air outflow and is often seen in clients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The nurse examines the shape of the client's chest and compares the anteroposterior (AP) diameter with the lateral diameter. This ratio normally ranges from 1:2 to approximately 5:7, depending on body build. The ratio increases to 1:1 in clients with emphysema, which results in the typical barrel chest appearance.

Normally, the ribs slope downward. However, clients with air trapping in the lungs caused by chronic asthma or emphysema have little or no slope to the ribs (i.e., the ribs are more horizontal).

The nurse also checks for abnormal retractions of the intercostal spaces during inspiration, which indicate airflow obstruction. These retractions may be due to fibrosis of the underlying lung, severe acute asthma, emphysema, or tracheal or laryngeal obstruction.

 

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Palpation

Palpation of the chest occurs after inspection. Palpation allows the nurse to assess respiratory movement symmetry and observable abnormalities, to identify areas of tenderness, and to elicit vocal or tactile fremitus (vibration).

The nurse assesses thoracic expansion by placing the thumbs posteriorly on the spine at the level of the ninth ribs and extending the fingers laterally around the rib cage. As the client inhales, both sides of the chest should move upward and outward together in one symmetric movement, and the nurse's thumbs move apart. On exhalation, the thumbs should come back together as they return to the midline. Decreased movement on one side (unilateral or unequal expansion) may be a result of pain, trauma, or pneumothorax (air in the pleural cavity). Respiratory lag or slowed movement on one side may indicate the presence of a pulmonary mass, pleural fibrosis, atelectasis, pneumonia, or a lung abscess.

The nurse palpates any abnormalities found on inspection (e.g., masses, lesions, bruises, and swelling). The nurse also palpates for tenderness, particularly if the client has reported pain. Crepitus (subcutaneous emphysema) is felt as a crackling sensation beneath the fingertips and should be documented, especially if it occurs around a wound site or if a pneumothorax is suspected. Crepitus indicates that air is trapped within the tissues.

Tactile (vocal) fremitus is a vibration of the chest wall produced when the client speaks. This vibration can be palpated on the chest wall. To elicit tactile fremitus, the nurse places the palm or the base of the fingers against the client's chest wall and instructs him or her to say the number 99. Using the same hand and moving from the apices to the bases, the nurse compares vibrations from one side of the chest with those from the other side. Palpable vibrations are transmitted from the tracheobronchial tree, along the solid surface of chest wall, and to the nurse's hand.

The nurse notes the symmetry of the vibrations and areas of enhanced, diminished, or absent fremitus. Fremitus is decreased if the transmission of sound waves from the larynx to the chest wall is slowed. This situation can occur when the pleural space is filled with air (pneumothorax) or fluid (pleural effusion) or when the bronchus is obstructed. Fremitus is increased over large bronchi because of their proximity to the chest wall. Disease processes such as pneumonia and abscesses increase the density of the thorax and enhance transmission of the vibrations.

 

Percussion

The nurse uses percussion to assess for pulmonary resonance, the boundaries of organs, and diaphragmatic excursion. Percussion involves tapping the chest wall, which sets the underlying tissues into motion and produces audible sounds. The nurse places the distal joint of the middle finger of the less dominant hand firmly over the intercostal space to be percussed. No other part of the nurse's hand touches the client's chest wall because doing so absorbs the vibrations. The middle finger of the dominant hand then delivers quick, sharp strikes to the distal joint of the positioned finger. The nurse maintains a loose, relaxed wrist while delivering the taps with the tip of the finger, not the finger pad. This technique is repeated two or three times to determine the intensity, pitch, quality, and duration of the sound produced. Long fingernails limit the ability to percuss.

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Percussion produces five distinguishable notes. These sounds assist the nurse in determining the density of the underlying structures (i.e., whether the lung tissue contains air or fluid or is solid). Percussion of the thorax is performed over the intercostal spaces because percussing the sternum, ribs, or scapulae yields sound indicating solid bone. Percussion penetrates only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm), and therefore deeper lesions are not detected with this technique.

Percussion begins with the client sitting in an upright position. The nurse assesses the posterior thorax first and proceeds systematically, beginning at the apex and working toward the base. The apex of the lung extends anteriorly approximately ¾ to 1 ½ inches (2 to 4 cm) above the clavicle. Posteriorly, there is approximately a 2-inch (5-cm) width of lung tissue at the apex.

The nurse assesses diaphragmatic excursion by instructing the client to "take a deep breath and hold it" while percussing downward until dullness is noted at the lower border of the lung. Normal resonance of the lung stops at the diaphragm, where the sound becomes dull; this site is marked. The nurse repeats the process after instructing the client to "let out all your breath and hold." The difference between the two markings or sounds is the diaphragmatic excursion, which may range from 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm). The diaphragm is normally higher on the right because of the location of the liver. Diaphragmatic excursion may be decreased or absent in clients with pleurisy, diaphragm paralysis, or emphysema.

The nurse continues to assess the thorax with percussion of the anterior and lateral chest. The percussion note changes from resonance of the normal lung to dullness at the borders of the heart and liver. The presence of fluid or solid material is indicated by a dull percussion note over lung tissue (as occurs with pneumonia, pleural effusion, fibrosis, atelectasis, and tumors).

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Auscultation

Auscultation includes listening for normal breath sounds, adventitious sounds, and voice sounds. Auscultation provides information about the flow of air through the tracheo-bronchial tree and helps the listener to identify fluid, mucus, or obstruction in the respiratory system. The diaphragm of the stethoscope is designed to detect high-pitched sounds.

Auscultation begins with the client sitting in an upright position. With the stethoscope pressed firmly against the client's chest wall (clothing can distort or muffle sounds), the nurse instructs him or her to breathe slowly and deeply through an open mouth. (Breathing through the nose would set up turbulent sounds that are transmitted to the lungs.) A systematic approach is used, beginning at the apices and moving down through the intercostal spaces to the bases. Listening over bony structures is avoided while auscultating the thorax posteriorly, laterally, and anteriorly. The nurse listens to a full respiratory cycle, noting the quality and intensity of the breath sounds. The client is observed for signs of lightheadedness or dizziness caused by hyperventilation during auscultation. If these symptoms occur, the client is told to breathe normally for a few minutes.

NORMAL BREATH SOUNDS

Normal breath sounds are produced as air vibrates while passing through the respiratory passages from the larynx to the alveoli. Breath sounds are identified by their location, intensity, pitch, and duration within the respiratory cycle (e.g., early or late inspiration and expiration). Normal breath sounds are known as bronchial or tubular (harsh hollow sounds heard over the trachea and mainstem bronchi), bronchovesicular (heard over the branching bronchi), and vesicular (a soft rustling sound heard in the periphery over small bronchioles). The nurse describes these sounds as normal, increased, decreased (diminished), or absent.

When bronchial breath sounds are heard peripherally, they are abnormal. This increased sound occurs when centrally generated bronchial sounds are transmitted to an area of increased density, such as in clients with atelectasis, tumor, or pneumonia. When audible in an abnormal location, bronchovesicular breath sounds may indicate normal aging or an abnormality such as pulmonary consolidation and chronic airway disease.

 

ADVENTITIOUS BREATH SOUNDS

Adventitious sounds are additional breath sounds superimposed on normal sounds, and they indicate pathologic changes in the tracheobronchial tree. Table 27-6 classifies and describes adventitious sounds: crackle, wheeze, rhonchus, and pleural friction rub. Adventitious sounds vary in pitch, intensity, duration, and the phase of the respiratory cycle in which they occur. The nurse documents exactly what is heard on auscultation.

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VOICE SOUNDS

If the nurse discovers abnormalities during the physical assessment of the lungs and thorax, the client is assessed for vocal resonance. Auscultation of voice sounds through the normally air-filled lung produces a muffled, unclear sound because sound vibrations travel poorly through air. Vocal resonance is increased when the sound must travel through a solid or liquid medium, as it does in clients with a consolidated area of the lung, pneumonia, atelectasis, pleural effusion, tumor, or abscess.

BRONCHOPHONY. Bronchophony is the abnormally loud and clear transmission of voice sounds through an area of increased density. For assessment of bronchophony, the client repeats the number 99 while the nurse systematically auscultates the thorax.

WHISPERED PECTORILOQUY. Whispered pectoriloquy is the enhanced voice heard through the chest wall. It is much more sensitive than bronchophony and is perceived by having the client whisper the number sequence one, two, three. Whispered words normally sound faint and indistinct. If they are heard loudly and distinctly, the nurse suspects consolidation of lung tissue.

EGOPHONY. Egophony is another form of abnormally enhanced vocal resonance and has a high-pitched, bleating, nasal quality. The nurse auscultates the thorax while the client repeats the letter E. Egophony exists when this letter is heard as a flat, nasal sound of A through the stethoscope. This abnormal sound indicates an area of consolidation, pleural effusion, or abscess.

 

OTHER INDICATORS OF RESPIRATORY ADEQUACY

The nurse evaluates additional indicators of respiratory adequacy because gas exchange affects all body systems. Some indicators (e.g., cyanosis) indicate immediate oxygenation problems. Other changes (e.g., clubbing, weight loss, unevenly developed muscles) reflect a more long-standing oxygenation problem.

Skin and Mucous Membranes

The skin and mucous membranes are assessed for the presence of pallor or cyanosis, which could indicate inadequate ventilation. Areas to assess include the nail beds and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity. The fingers are examined for clubbing, which would indicate hypoxia of long duration.

General Appearance

The nurse observes the client for muscle development and general body build. Long-term respiratory problems are often associated with an inability to maintain body weight and a loss of general muscle mass. Arms and legs may appear thin or poorly muscled. The muscles of the neck and chest may be hypertrophied, especially in the client with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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Endurance

The nurse observes how easily the client moves and whether he or she is short of breath while resting or becomes short of breath when walking 10 to 20 steps. As the client speaks, the nurse observes how often he or she pauses for breath between words.

Psychosocial Assessment

The nurse assesses aspects of the client's lifestyle that may significantly affect respiratory function. Some respiratory conditions may be worsened by stress. The nurse asks about present life stresses and usual coping mechanisms.

Chronic respiratory illnesses may cause changes in family roles and relationships, social isolation, financial problems, and unemployment or disability. By discussing coping mechanisms, the nurse assesses the client's reaction to these psychosocial stressors and discovers strengths and ineffective behaviors. For example, the client may react to stress with dependence on family members, withdrawal, or noncompliance with interventions. After completing the psychosocial assessment, the nurse assists the client in determining the support systems available to help cope with respiratory impairment.

 

 

Diagnostic Assessment

I LABORATORY TESTS

Blood Tests

A red blood cell count provides data regarding the transport of oxygen from the lungs. A hemoglobin deficiency directly affects tissue oxygenation because hemoglobin transports oxygen to the cells and could cause hypoxemia.

Arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis assesses oxygenation (partial pressure of arterial oxygen [Pao2]), alveolar ventilation (partial pressure of arterial carbon dioxide [Paco2]), and acid-base balance. Blood gas studies provide valuable information for monitoring treatment results, adjusting oxygen therapy, and evaluating the client's responses to treatment and therapy, such as during weaning from mechanical ventilation.

 

Sputum Tests

Sputum specimens obtained by expectoration or tracheal suctioning assist in the identification of pathogenic organisms or abnormal cells, such as in a malignancy or a hypersensitivity state. Sputum culture and sensitivity analyses identify bacterial infection with either gram-negative or gram-positive organisms and determine the vulnerability to specific antibiotics. Cytologic examination is performed on sputum to help diagnose malignant lesions by identifying cancer cells. Benign conditions, such as a hypersensitivity state, may also be identified by cytologic testing. Eosinophils and Curschmann's spirals (a mucous form) are often found by cytologic study in clients with allergic asthma.

 

RADIOGRAPHIC EXAMINATIONS

Standard Radiography

Chest x-ray examinations are performed for clients with respiratory tract disorders to evaluate the present status of the chest and to provide a baseline for comparison with future changes. Standard chest x-ray examinations are performed from posteroanterior (PA; back to front) and left lateral (LL) projections. Portable chest x-ray studies (taken anteroposterior [AP], front to back) cost more, and the films produced are of lower quality and are more difficult for the radiologist to interpret. Consecutive, 10-mm cross-sectional views of the thorax and produces a three-dimensional assessment of the lungs and thorax.

Fat, cystic, and solid tissue can be distinguished with CT. By adding an intravenously injected contrast agent, vessels and other soft tissue structures can be identified. CT is especially valuable in studying the mediastinum, hilar region, and pleural space. The newer high-resolution CT (HRCT) uses 1.5- to 2-mm "slices" to assist in assessing bronchial abnormalities, interstitial disease, and emphysema. Nursing interventions for the client undergoing CT include education about the procedure and determination of the client's sensitivity to the contrast medium (very important for anaphylaxis prevention).

Ventilation and Perfusion Scanning

A ventilation and perfusion scan (V/Q scan) identifies the areas of the lung being ventilated and the distribution of pulmonary blood. It is used primarily to support or rule out a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism.

To perform the study, the physician first injects a radionuclide with the client in a supine position and then takes six perfusion views: anterior, posterior, right and left lateral, and two obliques. If the perfusion scan is normal, there is no reason to continue with the ventilation scan. Otherwise, the client inhales a radioactive gas or radioaerosol, and the lung is scanned continuouslyas the gas makes its way into the lungs (the "wash-in" phase), once the gas has reached equilibrium within the lungs, and then while the gas is leaving the lungs (the "wash-out" phase).

The nurse teaches the client about the procedure and explains that the radioactive substance clears from the body in approximately 8 hours.

 

OTHER NONINVASIVE DIAGNOSTIC TESTS

Pulse Oximetry

Pulse oximetry identifies hemoglobin saturation. Usually hemoglobin is almost 100% saturated with oxygen. The pulse oximeter uses a wave of infrared light and a sensor placed on the client's finger, toe, nose, earlobe, or forehead. Ideal normal pulse oximetry values are 95% to 100%; values may be a little lower in older clients and in clients with dark skin. To avoid confusion with the Pao2 values from arterial blood gases, pulse oximetry readings are recorded as the Sao2 (arterial oxygen saturation), or Spo2.

A pulse oximetry reading can alert the nurse to desaturation before clinical signs occur (e.g., dusky skin, pale mucosa, and nail beds). The nurse considers client movement, hypothermia, decreased peripheral blood flow, ambient light (sunlight, infrared lamps), decreased hemoglobin, edema, and fingernail polish as possible causes for low readings. Covering the sensor or changing its positioning could yield better accuracy if too much ambient light is present.

Results lower than 91% (and certainly below 86%) constitute an emergency and necessitate immediate treatment. When the Sao2 is below 85%, the tissues of the body have a difficult time becoming oxygenated. An Sao2 of less than 70% is usually life threatening, but in some cases values below 80% may be life threatening. Pulse oximetry is less accurate at lower values.

 

Pulmonary Function Tests

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) evaluate lung function and dysfunction and include studies such as lung volumes and capacities, flow rates, diffusion capacity, gas exchange, airway resistance, and distribution of ventilation. The physician interprets the results by comparing the client's data with normal findings predicted according to age, gender, race, height, weight, and smoking status.

PFTs are useful in screening clients for pulmonary disease even before the onset of signs or symptoms. Serial testing provides objective data that may be used as a guide to treatment (e.g., changes in pulmonary function can support a decision to continue, change, or discontinue a specific therapy). Preoperative evaluation with PFTs may identify the client at risk for postoperative pulmonary complications. One of the most common reasons for performing such tests is to determine the cause of dyspnea. When performed while the client exercises, PFTs help to determine whether dyspnea is caused by pulmonary or cardiac dysfunction or by muscle deconditioning. These tests are also useful for determining the effect of the client's occupation on pulmonary function and for evaluating any related disability for legal purposes.

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CLIENT PREPARATION. The nurse prepares the client for PFTs by explaining the purpose of the tests for planning care. He or she is advised not to smoke for 6 to 8 hours before testing. According to institutional policy and procedure, bronchodilator medication is withheld for 4 to 6 hours before the test. The client with respiratory impairment often fears further breathlessness and is usually anxious before these "breathing" tests. The nurse helps to reduce apprehension by describing what will be experienced during and after the testing.

PROCEDURE. PFTs can be performed at the bedside or in the respiratory laboratory. The client is asked to breathe through the mouth only. A nose clip may be used to prevent air from escaping. The client performs different breathing maneuvers while measurements are obtained.

FOLLOW-UP CARE. Because numerous breathing maneuvers are performed during PFTs, the nurse observes for increased dyspnea or bronchospasm after such studies. The nurse documents whether bronchodilator medication was administered during testing and alters the client's medication schedule as indicated.

 

Exercise Testing

Exercise, or activity in general, increases metabolism and gas transport as energy is generated. These tests are performed on a treadmill or bicycle or by a self-paced 12-minute walking test. The normal client's exercise is limited by hemodynamic factors, whereas the pulmonary client is limited by ventilatory capacity, pulmonary gas exchange compromise, or both. The nurse explains exercise testing and assures the client of close monitoring by trained professionals throughout the test.

 

Skin Tests

Skin tests are used in combination with other diagnostic data to identify various infectious diseases (e.g., tuberculosis), viral diseases (e.g., mononucleosis and mumps), and fungal diseases (e.g., coccidioidomycosis and histoplasmosis). The presence of allergic hypersensitivity and the status of the immune system can be demonstrated through skin testing. Exposure to the allergen or organism used in testing produces a specific reaction (delayed hypersensitivity reaction) of the client's immune system.

 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used in the diagnosis of respiratory system disorders to provide information about the type and condition of the tissues being imaged along any plane inside the body: vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. This costly procedure requires little client preparation other than the removal of all metal objects. Because of the powerful magnets used in MRI, clients with pacemakers, aneurysm clips, inner-ear implants, cardiac valves, or any other metallic foreign objects in the body are not candidates for MRI.

The nurse informs the client of possible claustrophobia and discomfort from lying on a hard, cool table inside the magnet's small cylinder. The nurse instructs the client in the use of relaxation techniques and imagery to help decrease these sensations. Sedation may be necessary in some cases. The nurse explains that the noises heard during the examination are the natural, rhythmic sounds of radiofrequency pulses. These noises may range from barely audible to noticeable.

 

OTHER INVASIVE DIAGNOSTIC TESTS

Endoscopic Examinations

Endoscopic diagnostic studies to assess respiratory disorders include bronchoscopy, laryngoscopy, and mediastinoscopy. The most common complications are those related to the medications and bleeding.

Thoracentesis

Thoracentesis is used for diagnosis or treatment and involves the aspiration of pleural fluid or air from the pleural space. Microscopic examination of the pleural fluid helps in making a diagnosis. Pleural fluid may be drained to relieve pulmonary compression and the resultant respiratory distress caused by cancer, empyema, pleurisy, or tuberculosis. Thoracentesis is often followed by pleural biopsy to assist in further assessment of the parietal pleura. Thoracentesis also allows the instillation of medications into the pleural space.

CLIENT PREPARATION. Adequate client preparation is essential before thoracentesis to ensure cooperation during the procedure and to prevent complications. The nurse tells the client to expect a stinging sensation from the local anesthetic agent and a feeling of pressure when the needle is inserted. The nurse reinforces the importance of not moving during the procedure (avoiding coughing, deep breathing, or sudden movement) to avoid puncture of the visceral pleura or lung.

These positions widen the intercostal spaces and permit easy access to the pleural fluid. The nurse properly positions and physically supports the client. Pillows are used to make the client comfortable and to provide physical support.

Before the procedure, the nurse checks the client's history for hypersensitivity to local anesthetic agents and checks to make sure the client has signed an informed consent. The entire chest or back is exposed, and the aspiration site is shaved if necessary. The actual site depends on the volume and location of the effusion, which are determined by radiography and physical examination procedures such as percussion.

 

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PROCEDURE. Thoracentesis is usually performed at the bedside, although ultrasonography or computed tomography may be used to guide it. After draping the client and cleaning the skin with a germicidal solution, the physician uses aseptic technique and injects a local anesthetic agent into the selected intercostal space. The nurse keeps the client informed of the procedure while observing for shock, pain, nausea, pallor, diaphoresis, cyanosis, tachypnea, and dyspnea.

The physician advances the short 18- to 25-gauge thoracentesis needle (with an attached syringe) into the pleural space. Gentle suction is applied as the fluid in the pleural space is slowly aspirated. A vacuum collection bottle is sometimes necessary to remove larger volumes of fluid. To prevent re-expansion pulmonary edema, usually no more than 1000 mL of fluid is removed at one time. If a pleural biopsy is to be performed, a second, larger needle with a cutting edge and collection chamber is used. After the physician withdraws the needle, pressure is applied to the puncture site, and a small sterile dressing is applied.

FOLLOW-UP CARE. After thoracentesis, the physician orders a chest x-ray study to rule out possible pneumothorax and subsequent mediastinal shift (shift of center thoracic structure toward one side). The nurse monitors the client's vital signs and auscultates breath sounds while noting absent or diminished sounds on the affected side. The puncture site and dressing are observed for leakage or bleeding. The nurse also assesses for other complications, such as reaccumulation of fluid in the pleural space, subcutaneous emphysema, pyrogenic infection, and tension pneumothorax. The client is encouraged to breathe deeply to promote reexpansion of the lung. The nurse documents the procedure, including the client's tolerance, the volume and character of the fluid removed, any specimens sent to the laboratory, the location of the puncture site, and respiratory assessment findings before, during, and after the procedure.

 

Lung Biopsy

A lung biopsy is performed to obtain tissue for histologic analysis, culture, or cytologic examination. The physician uses tissue samples to make a definite diagnosis regarding the type of malignancy, infection, inflammation, or lung disease. Biopsy procedures include transbronchial biopsy (TBB) and transbronchial needle aspiration (TBNA), both of which are performed during bronchoscopy; transthoracic needle aspiration (percutaneous approach for areas not accessible by bronchoscopy); and open lung biopsy (in the operating room).

 

CLIENT PREPARATION. The client may have predetermined ideas about the outcome of the biopsy and may closely associate the terms biopsy and cancer. Therefore the nurse explains what to expect before and after the procedure and explores the client's feelings and fears. To reduce discomfort and anxiety, the physician may prescribe an analgesic or sedative before the procedure. The nurse informs the client undergoing percutaneous biopsy that discomfort is minimized with a local anesthetic agent but that a sensation of pressure may be experienced during needle insertion and tissue aspiration. Open lung biopsy is usually performed in the operating room with the client under general anesthesia, and the usual preoperative preparations apply.

PROCEDURE. Percutaneous lung biopsy may be performed in the client's room or in the radiology department after an informed consent has been obtained. Fluoroscopy, CT, or ultrasonography is often used to better visualize the area undergoing biopsy and to guide the procedure. Positioning of the client is similar to that for thoracentesis. The physician cleans the skin with an antibacterial agent and administers a local anesthetic agent. Under sterile conditions, the physician inserts a spinal-type 18- to 22-gauge needle through the skin into the desired area (e.g., tissue, nodule, or lymph node) and obtains the tissue needed for microscopic examination. The nurse applies a dressing after the procedure.

An open lung biopsy is performed in the operating room. The client undergoes a thoracotomy where lung tissue is exposed. At least two tissue specimens are taken (usually from an upper lobe and a lower lobe site). The surgeon places a chest tube to remove air and fluid so the lung can reinflate and then closes the chest.

FOLLOW-UP CARE. The nurse monitors the client's vital signs and breath sounds every 4 hours for 24 hours and assesses for signs of respiratory distress (e.g., dyspnea, pallor, diaphoresis, and tachypnea). Pneumothorax is a serious complication of needle biopsy and open lung biopsy, and therefore it is important for the nurse to report untoward signs and symptoms promptly. The nurse also monitors for hemoptysis (which may be scant and transient) or, in rare cases, for frank bleeding from vascular or lung trauma.

 

 

 

 

Signs of Respiratory Distress

Learning the signs of respiratory distress

People having difficulty breathing often show signs that they are not getting enough oxygen, indicating respiratory distress. Below is a list of some of the signs that may indicate that a person is not getting enough oxygen. It is important to learn the symptoms of respiratory distress to know how to respond appropriately. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

         Breathing rate
An increase in the number of breaths per minute may indicate that a person is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.

         Color changes
A bluish color seen around the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails may occur when a person is not getting as much oxygen as needed. The color of the skin may also appear pale or gray.

         Grunting
A grunting sound can be heard each time the person exhales. This grunting is the body's way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.

         Nose flaring
The openings of the nose spreading open while breathing may indicate that a person is having to work harder to breathe.

         Retractions
The chest appears to sink in just below the neck and/or under the breastbone with each breath--one way of trying to bring more air into the lungs.

         Sweating
There may be increased sweat on the head, but the skin does not feel warm to the touch. More often, the skin may feel cool or clammy. This may happen when the breathing rate is very fast.

         Wheezing
A tight, whistling or musical sound heard with each breath may indicate that the air passages may be smaller (tighter), making it harder to breathe.

Persons who are having a difficult time breathing often show signs that they are not getting enough oxygen, indicating respiratory distress. Below is a list of some of the signs that may indicate that a person is not getting enough oxygen. It is important to learn the symptoms of respiratory distress to know how to respond appropriately. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

         breathing rate
An increase in the number of breaths per minute may indicate that a person is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.

         color changes
A bluish color seen around the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails may occur when a person is not getting as much oxygen as needed. The color of the skin may also appear pale or gray.

         grunting
A grunting sound can be heard each time the person exhales. This grunting is the body's way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.

         nose flaring
The openings of the nose spreading open while breathing may indicate that a person is having to work harder to breathe.

         retractions
The chest appears to sink in just below the neck and/or under the breastbone with each breath - one way of trying to bring more air into the lungs.

         sweating
There may be increased sweat on the head, but the skin does not feel warm to the touch. More often, the skin may feel cool or clammy. This may happen when the breathing rate is very fast.

         wheezing
A tight, whistling or musical sound heard with each breath may indicate that the air passages may be smaller, making it more difficult to breathe.

There are many types of lung problems that require clinical care by a physician or other healthcare professional. Listed below are some of the conditions, for which we have provided a brief overview.

If you cannot find the condition in which you are interested, please visit the page in this Web site for an Internet/World Wide Web address that may contain additional information on that topic.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is a very common disease that effects more than 12 million individuals in the United States. It is the fourth leading cause of death. COPD is a term used to describe patients with emphysema,chronic bronchitis or a combination of both.

Symptoms of COPD include:

         Shortness of breath with activity or while resting

         Wheezing

         Chest tightness

         A daily or almost daily cough cough that produces mucus

Asthma

Illustration of  the anatomy of the respiratory system, adult

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease involving recurrent breathing problems. The characteristics of asthma are three airway problems:

         obstruction

         inflammation

         hyper-responsiveness

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The following are the most common symptoms for asthma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

In some cases, the only symptom is a chronic cough, especially at night, or coughing or wheezing that occurs only with exercise. Some people think they have recurrent bronchitis, since respiratory infections usually settle in the chest in a person predisposed to asthma.

Asthma may resemble other respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. If it is not detected, many people with asthma do not know they have it. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What causes asthma?

The basic cause of the lung abnormality in asthma is not yet known, although healthcare professionals have established that it is a special type of inflammation of the airway that leads to the following:

         contraction of airway muscles

         mucus production

         swelling in the airways

It is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional factors - as commonly believed years ago. Emotional anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue, which may affect the immune system and increase asthma symptoms, or aggravate an attack. However, these reactions are considered to be more of an effect than a cause.

What happens during an asthma attack?

Persons with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs get narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult. These problems are caused by an oversensitivity of the lungs and airways.

         Lungs and airways overreact to certain triggers and become inflamed and clogged.

         Breathing becomes harder and may hurt.

         There may be coughing.

         There may be a wheezing or whistling sound, which is typical of asthma. Wheezing occurs because:

         muscles that surround the airways tighten, and the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward.

         membranes that line the airways secrete extra mucus.

         the mucus can form plugs that further block the air passages.

         the rush of air through the narrowed airways produces the wheezing sounds.

What are the risk factors for an asthma attack?

Although anyone may have an asthma attack, it most commonly occurs in:

         children and adolescents ages 5 to 17 years 

         adults older than 65

         people living in urban communities

Other factors include:

         family history of asthma

         personal medical history of allergies

How is asthma diagnosed?

To diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other lung disorders, physicians rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests, which may include:

         Illustration of a spirometry procedure

spirometry - a spirometer is a device used by your physician that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:

         to determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air

         to monitor a lung disease

         to monitor the effectiveness of treatment

         to determine the severity of a lung disease

         to determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

         peak flow monitoring (PFM) - a device used to measure the fastest speed in which a person can blow air out of the lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured by a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.

         chest x-rays - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

         blood tests - to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.

         allergy tests

Treatment for asthma:

Specific treatment for asthma will be determined by your physician based on:

         your age, overall health, and medical history

         extent of the disease

         your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         expectations for the course of the disease

         your opinion or preference

As of yet, there is no cure for asthma. However, it can often be controlled with prescription medications that may help to prevent or relieve symptoms, and by learning ways to manage episodes.

Managing asthma:

People with asthma can learn to identify and avoid the things that trigger an episode, and educate themselves about medications and other asthma management strategies.

According to the Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma, published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

         Asthma is a chronic disease. It has to be cared for all the time - not just when symptoms are present.

         The four parts of continually managing asthma are:

         Identify and minimize contact with asthma triggers.

         Understand and take medications as prescribed.

         Monitor asthma to recognize signs when it is getting worse.

         Know what to do when asthma gets worse.

         Working with a healthcare professional is the best way to take care of asthma.

         The more information a person with asthma has, the better asthma can be controlled.

Four components of asthma treatment:

1.     The use of objective measures of lung function- spirometry, peak flow expiratory flow rate - to access the severity of asthma, and to monitor the course of treatment.

2.     The use of medication therapy designed to reverse and prevent the airway inflammation component of asthma, as well as to treat the narrowing airways.

3.     The use of environmental control measures to avoid or eliminate factors that induce or trigger asthma flare-ups, including the consideration of immunotherapy.

4.     Patient education that includes a partnership among the patient, family members, and the physician.

 

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis

Illustration of  the anatomy of the respiratory system, adult
Click Image to Enlarge

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term inflammation of the bronchi, which results in increased production of mucus, as well as other changes.

To be classified as chronic bronchitis:

         cough and expectoration must occur most days for at least three months per year, for two years in a row.

         other causes of symptoms, such as tuberculosis or other lung diseases, must be excluded.

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for chronic bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

         cough

         expectoration (spitting out) of mucus

Chronic bronchitis may cause:

         frequent and severe respiratory infections

         narrowing and plugging of the breathing tubes (bronchi)

         difficult breathing

         disability

Other symptoms may include:

         lips and skin may appear blue

         abnormal lung signs

         swelling of the feet

         heart failure

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What are the causes of chronic bronchitis?

In acute bronchitis, bacteria or viruses may be the cause, but in chronic bronchitis there is no specific organism recognized as the cause of the disease.

Cigarette smoking is cited as the most common contributor to chronic bronchitis, followed by:

         bacterial or viral infections

         environmental pollution (chemical fumes, dust, and other substances)

Chronic bronchitis is often associated with other pulmonary diseases such as:

         pulmonary emphysema

         pulmonary fibrosis

         asthma

         tuberculosis

         sinusitis

         upper respiratory infections

How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your physician may request the following:

         pulmonary function tests - diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that the person must breathe into, and may include the following:

         spirometry - a spirometer is a device used by your physician that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:

         to determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air

         to monitor a lung disease

         to monitor the effectiveness of treatment

         to determine the severity of a lung disease

         to determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

         peak flow monitoring (PFM) - a device used to measure the fastest speed in which a person can blow air out of the lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured by a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.

         arterial blood gas (ABG) - a blood test that is used to evaluate the lungs' ability to provide blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, and to measure the pH (acidity) of the blood.

         pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

         x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

         computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Treatment for chronic bronchitis:

Specific treatment for chronic bronchitis will be determined by your physician based on:

         your age, overall health, and medical history

         extent of the disease

         your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         expectations for the course of the disease

         your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

         oral medications

         bronchodilators for inhaled medications

         oxygen supplementation from portable containers

         lung reduction surgery to remove damaged area of lung

         lung transplantation

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD is a term that refers to a large group of lung diseases which can interfere with normal breathing. More than 12 million Americans have COPD, and an additional 12 million may have impaired lung function, suggesting it may be significantly under-reported. As many as 24 million people may be affected. The two most common conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

The causes of COPD are not fully understood. It is generally agreed that the most important cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema is cigarette smoking. Causes such as air pollution and occupational exposures may play a role, especially when combined with cigarette smoking. Heredity also plays a contributing role in some patients' emphysema, and is especially important in a rare form - due to alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency.

Patients with chronic bronchitis usually have a cough and sputum production for many years before they develop shortness of breath.

Patients with emphysema usually have shortness of breath and develop a cough and sputum during a respiratory infection, or in the later stages of the illness.

Pulmonary Emphysema



What is pulmonary emphysema?

Emphysema is a chronic lung condition in which alveoli, or air sacs, may be:

         destroyed

         narrowed

         collapsed

         stretched

         over-inflated

Over-inflation of the air-sacs is a result of a breakdown of the walls of the alveoli, and causes a decrease in respiratory function and breathlessness. Damage to the air sacs is irreversible and results in permanent "holes" in the tissues of the lower lungs.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary emphysema?

The following are the most common symptoms for pulmonary emphysema. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Early symptoms of pulmonary emphysema may include:

         shortness of breath

         cough

Other symptoms may include:

         fatigue

         anxiety

         sleep problems

         heart problems

         weight loss

         depression

The symptoms of pulmonary emphysema may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What are the causes of pulmonary emphysema?

Emphysema does not develop suddenly, but occurs very gradually. The lung has a system of elastic fibers that allow the lungs to expand and contract. Pulmonary emphysema occurs when a breakdown in the chemical balance that protects the lungs against the destruction of the elastic fibers occurs.

There are a number of reasons for the breakdown in chemical balance:

         smoking

         exposure to air pollution (chemical fumes, dust, and other substances)

         irritating fumes and dusts on the job

         a rare, inherited form of the disease called alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency-related pulmonary emphysema, or early onset pulmonary emphysema

How is pulmonary emphysema diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the physician may request the following:

         pulmonary function tests - diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines into which the person must breathe, and may include the following:

         Illustration of a spirometry procedure

          

spirometry - a spirometer is a device used by your physician that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:

         to determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air

         to monitor a lung disease

         to monitor the effectiveness of treatment

         to determine the severity of a lung disease

         to determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

         peak flow monitoring (PFM) - a device used to measure the fastest speed in which a person can blow air out of the lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured by a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.

         blood tests - to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.

         chest x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

         sputum culture - a diagnostic test performed on the material that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. A sputum culture is often performed to determine if an infection is present.

         electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) - a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias), and detects heart muscle damage.

Treatment for pulmonary emphysema:

Specific treatment for pulmonary emphysema will be determined by your physician based on:

         your age, overall health, and medical history

         extent of the disease

         your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         expectations for the course of the disease

         your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for people with pulmonary emphysema is to live more comfortably with the disease by providing relief of symptoms and preventing progression of the disease with minimal side effects. Treatment may include:

         quitting smoking - the single most important factor for maintaining healthy lungs

         antibiotics for bacterial infections

         oral medications

         bronchodilators and other inhaled medications

         exercise - including breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles used in breathing as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program to condition the rest of the body

         oxygen supplementation from portable containers

         lung reduction surgery to remove damaged area of the lung

         lung transplantation

Acute Bronchitis

What is acute bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the breathing tubes (airways) that are called bronchi, which causes increased production of mucus and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the two most common are acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of mucous membranes of the bronchial tubes.

What causes acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses. It may also be caused by physical or chemical agents--dusts, allergens, strong fumes--and those from chemical cleaning compounds, or tobacco smoke. Acute asthmatic bronchitis may happen as the result of an asthma attack, or it may be the cause of an asthma attack.

Acute bronchitis is usually a mild, and self-limiting condition, with complete healing and return to function.

Acute bronchitis may follow the common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in people with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. It can be serious in people with pulmonary or cardiac diseases. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.

What are the symptoms acute bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for acute bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

         Runny nose

         Malaise

         Chills

         Slight fever

         Back and muscle pain

         Sore throat

         Wheezing

         Early--dry, nonproductive cough

         Later--abundant mucus-filled cough

         Shortness of breath

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Acute bronchitis is usually diagnosed by completing a medical history and physical examination. Many tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. The following tests may be ordered to help confirm a diagnosis:

         Chest X-rays--diagnostic tests which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

         Arterial blood gas--to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.

         Pulse oximetry--an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

         Cultures of nasal discharge and sputum--a test used to find and identify the microorganism causing an infection.

         Lung (pulmonary function) tests--diagnostic tests that help to measure the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that a person must breathe into.

Treatment for acute bronchitis

Specific treatment for acute bronchitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

         Your age, overall health, and medical history

         Extent of the disease

         Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         Expectations for the course of the disease

         Your opinion or preference

In most cases, antibiotic treatment is not necessary to treat acute bronchitis, since most of the infections are caused by viruses. If the condition has progressed to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be appropriate. Most of the treatment is designed to address the symptoms, and may include:

         Analgesics, such as acetaminophen for fever and discomfort

         Cough medicine

         Increased fluid intake

         Increase in humidity

         Smoking cessation

Antihistamines should be avoided in most cases because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.

Pneumonia

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or chemical irritants. It is a serious infection or inflammation in which the air sacs fill with pus and other liquid.

         Lobar pneumonia affects one or more sections (lobes) of the lungs.

         Bronchial pneumonia (or bronchopneumonia) affects patches throughout both lungs.

What are the different types of pneumonia?

The main types of pneumonia are:

         Bacterial pneumonia is caused by various bacteria. The Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common bacterium that causes bacterial pneumonia.

It usually occurs when the body is weakened in some way, such as illness, malnutrition, old age, or impaired immunity, and the bacteria are able to work their way into the lungs. Bacterial pneumonia can affect all ages, but those at greater risk include the following:

         persons who abuse alcohol

         persons who are debilitated

         post-operative patients

         persons with respiratory diseases or viral infections

         persons who have weakened immune systems

The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:

         shaking, chills

         chattering teeth

         severe chest pain

         high temperature

         heavy perspiring

         rapid pulse

         rapid breathing

         bluish color to lips and nailbeds

         confused mental state or delirium

         cough that produces rust-colored or greenish mucus

         Viral pneumonia is caused by various viruses, and is the cause of half of all cases of pneumonia.

Early symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia, which may be followed by increasing breathlessness and a worsening of the cough.

Viral pneumonias may make a person susceptible to bacterial pneumonia.

         Mycoplasma pneumonia has somewhat different symptoms and physical signs. It is caused by mycoplasmas, the smallest free-living agents of disease in humankind, which have the characteristics of both bacteria and viruses, but which are not classified as either. They generally cause a mild, widespread pneumonia that affects all age groups.

Symptoms include a severe cough that may produce some mucus.

         Other less common pneumonias may be caused by the inhaling of food, liquid, gases or dust, or by fungi.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made based on the season and the extent of the illness. Based on these factors, your physician may diagnose simply on a thorough history and physical examination, but may include the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

         chest x ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

         blood tests - to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.

         sputum culture - a diagnostic test performed on the material that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. A sputum culture is often performed to determine if an infection is present.

         pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

         chest CT scan  - a test that takes images of the structure in the chest

         bronchoscopy - a procedure used to look inside the airways of the lungs

         pleural fluid culture- a culture of fluid sample taken from the pleural space (space between the lungs and chest wall) to identify the bacteria that cause pneumonia

Treatment for pneumonia:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

         your age, overall health, and medical history

         extent of the disease

         your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         expectations for the course of the disease

         your opinion or preference

Treatment may include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotics may also speed recovery from mycoplasma pneumonia and some special cases. There is no clearly effective treatment for viral pneumonia, which usually heals on its own.

Other treatment may include appropriate diet, oxygen therapy, pain medication, and medication for cough.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic bacterial infection that usually infects the lungs, although other organs are sometimes involved. TB is primarily an airborne disease.

There is a difference between being infected with the TB bacterium and having active tuberculosis disease.

There are three important ways to describe the stages of TB. They are as follows:

1.     Exposure: This occurs when a person has been in contact, or exposed to, another person who is thought to have or does have TB. The exposed person will have a negative skin test, and normal chest x-ray, and no signs or symptoms of the disease.

2.     Latent TB infection: This occurs when a person has the TB bacteria in his/her body, but does not have symptoms of the disease. This person would have a positive skin test, but a normal chest x-ray.

3.     TB disease: This describes the person that has signs and symptoms of an active infection. The person would have a positive skin test and a positive chest x-ray.

The predominant TB bacterium is Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). Several people infected with M. tuberculosis never develop active TB. However, in people with weakened immune systems, especially those with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), TB organisms can overcome the body's defenses, multiply, and cause an active disease.

Who is at risk for developing TB?

TB affects all ages, races, income levels, and both genders. Those at higher risk include the following:

         people who live or work with others who have TB

         medically underserved populations

         homeless people

         people from other countries where TB is prevalent

         people in group settings, such as nursing homes

         people who abuse alcohol

         people who use intravenous drugs

         people with impaired immune systems

         the elderly

         healthcare workers who come in contact with high-risk populations

What are the symptoms of TB?

The following are the most common symptoms for TB. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

         cough that will not go away

         fatigue

         loss of appetite

         loss of weight

         fever

         coughing blood

         night perspiring

The symptoms of TB may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult a physician for a diagnosis.

What causes TB?

The TB bacterium is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs; however, repeated exposure to the germs is usually necessary before a person will become infected. It is not likely to be transmitted through personal items, such as clothing, bedding, a drinking glass, eating utensils, a handshake, a toilet, or other items that a person with TB has touched. Adequate ventilation is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of TB.

How is TB diagnosed?

TB is diagnosed with a TB skin test. In this test, a small amount of testing material is injected into the top layer of the skin. If a certain size bump develops within two or three days, the test may be positive for tuberculosis infection. Additional tests to determine if a person has TB disease include x-rays and sputum tests.

TB skin tests are suggested for those:

         in high-risk categories.

         who live or work in close contact with people who are at high-risk.

         who have never had a TB skin test.

Recommendations for skin testing in children, from the American Academy of Pediatrics are as follows:

Immediate testing:

         If the child is thought to have been exposed in the last 5 years.

         If the child has an x-ray that looks like TB.

         If the child has any symptoms of TB.

         A child who is coming from countries where TB is prevalent.

Yearly skin testing:

         Children with HIV.

         Children who are in jail.

Testing every 2 to 3 years:

         Children who are exposed to high-risk people.

Consider testing in children from ages 4 to 6 and 11 to 16 if:

         A child's parent has come from a high-risk country.

         A child has traveled to high-risk areas.

         Children who live in densely populated areas.

Treatment for tuberculosis:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

         your age, overall health, and medical history

         extent of the disease

         your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

         expectations for the course of the disease

         your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

         short-term hospitalization

         medications - isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, ethambutol, or streptomycin, may be prescribed for a period of time up to six months or more for the medication to be effective. Patients usually begin to improve within a few weeks of the start of treatment. After two weeks of treatment with the correct medications, the patient is not usually contagious, provided that treatment is carried through to the end, as prescribed by a physician.