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When a loved one has COPD or another chronic lung disease, knowing how to balance taking care of them and yourself can be difficult. This page provides helpful resources for caregivers including guides on helping your loved one quit smoking and how to take time out of your day for yourself.

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What is the Difference Between Restrictive and Obstructive Lung Disease?

By Do More With Oxygen

Thu, Sep 4, 2014

If you think you or a loved one may have a chronic lung disease, chances are you may have a lot of questions on the types of lung diseases, symptoms, tests for diagnosis and treatment options available. Read on for helpful information about the difference between restrictive and obstructive lung disease, what to look for as well as what to expect when you talk to your doctor1: What is the difference between restrictive and obstructive lung disease?

Obstructive Lung Disease

What is it?
Obstructive lung disease makes it difficult to breathe. When your rate of breathing increase, especially during times of activity or exertion, you may find that there is less time for you to breathe out all the air before you inhale again. This causes shortness of breath.

Which conditions are associated with obstructive lung disease?

  • Asthma
  • COPD (includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Bronchiectasis

How is it treated?
Treatments for obstructive lung disease can help open up your airways. You may receive a prescription for a bronchodilator, which is a medicine you inhale to help relax the muscles inside your lungs. Your doctor may also prescribe medication which can help minimize inflammation of your airway walls which can become swollen or filled with mucus. Oxygen therapy can also help improve your symptoms and breathing.

Restrictive Lung Disease

What is it?
Restrictive lung disease is when your lungs are not able to fully expand and fill with air. This is typically caused by the lungs becoming stiff, but occasionally restrictive lung disease is the result of stiffness of the chest wall or nerve damage.

Which conditions are associated with restrictive lung disease?

  • Sarcoidosis
  • Neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Scoliosis

How is it treated?
Medications that suppress your immune system such as corticosteroids may be used due to the ongoing inflammation associated with restrictive lung diseases. Your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen to help with breathing difficulty. If the lung disease is due to obesity, exercise and weight loss can help reduce symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a lung disease?

During the early stages of obstructive lung disease, you may experience shortness of breath only when you are active. If your condition gets worse, however, you may feel short of breath even when you are resting. You may also experience a dry cough or a cough with white sputum.

How are lung diseases diagnosed?

A pulmonary function test can determine if you have an obstructive or restrictive lung disease and the severity of the disease. During this test you blow air through a mouthpiece and the machine records the air flow and volume of air coming out of your lungs. Your doctor may also conduct a physical exam, discuss any smoking habits you may have and order an imaging test to help with the diagnosis. An imaging test may be done by a chest X-ray film or a computed tomography (CT scan) of the chest. In some cases your doctor may recommend a bronchoscopy in order to look inside the airways of your lungs and take lung tissue samples. A bronchoscopy is when the doctor uses a flexible tube with a camera on the tip (called a bronchoscope).

If you suspect you may have a lung disease, contact your doctor for an appointment.

Understand Pulmonary Tests


  1. WebMD

Topics: lung disease

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