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Obstructive Airway Diseases

Obstructive Airway diseases are a collective term for clinical diseases whereby there is partial obstruction of the airway causing wheezing, and consequently a decrease in oxygen in the blood. Airway diseases may also refer to eminent respiratory obstruction based on clinical signs and symptoms before an accurate diagnostic procedure is performed. Airway diseases as a pre-clinical generalization may lead to the diagnosis of common obstructive pulmonary diseases like Asthma, Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis.


Asthma is a clinical disease characterized by the inflammation of the airways, often accompanied by excessive secretions of mucus causing obstructions in the airways. Asthma is a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to certain antigens like pollen, dust and dust mites. Asthma once diagnosed is permanent. Thus, one can only control and minimize the attacks to reduce its morbidity. Foreign bodies and solid lesions in the airway may mimic the signs and symptoms of Asthma.


Emphysema happens when there is progressive destruction of the air sacs or alveoli causing an increase in dead air spaces and minimizing the lung’s capacity for air. Smoking is the most common cause of emphysema causing chronic dyspnea (difficulty breathing) and coughing. Bronchiectasis or the progressive damage of the inner bronchus may show similar signs like dyspnea (difficulty breathing) and coughing to that of emphysema.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis is a type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease exemplified (COPD) by the inflammation of the bronchus, causing massive mucus to block the airways in a level of the bronchi. Smoking is its most common cause. Attacks of Chronic Bronchitis may vary from mild to severe, but the condition is usually recurrent. Cystic fibrosis (scarring) may also be the result in the case of chronic signs of coughing and dyspnea, but fibrotic (scarring) signs may be eminent all over the lungs in this case to differentiate the diagnosis.


People having Asthma, Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis may benefit from diagnostic tools designed to measure lung function, help identify the right condition and the extent of the condition, as well as, possibly monitor the response to treatment. Diagnostic testing tools include: the Pulmonary Function Test, Chest X-Ray, Computed Tomography (CT) Scan, and the Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) Test.  Learn more about what the results of diagnostic tests may suggest at: Diagnosis of Lung Conditions.

Treatment for Obstructive Airway Diseases

The following forms of treatment may be available for various stages of obstructive airway diseases.

Cession Of Smoking – It is imperative for individuals with airway diseases to quit smoking to reduce progression, complications, and to limit exacerbations. This may not be an easy task and may require professional assistance and counseling.

Allergy Testing and Treatment – Detecting allergens and removing allergens from the environment and body has been known to assist for those with allergy triggered asthma.  Learn more about Allergies.

Medications – Physicians may prescribe a number of medications for airway diseases; some may be required to maintain for life, while others may only be needed during bouts of exacerbations. The following medicines are commonly prescribed to individuals with airway disease:

Bronchodilators (albuterol, ipratropium, formoterol) – medicines that increases the lumen of the airways for more air to come in and out.

Inhaled Steroids (Fluticasone, Budesonide) – steroids are used to control airway inflammation and reduce bouts of exacerbation. Some inhalers may combine steroids with bronchodilators (Symbicort).

Oral steroids – this are given to individuals in moderate to severe exacerbation to control inflammation.

Antibiotics – Respiratory infections, like bronchitis and pneumonia, may benefit from the use of antibiotics.

Oxygen Therapy – Oxygen is given to augment oxygenation of the lungs.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation – A combination of health education, exercise, nutrition and counseling may help select individuals with a pulmonary airway disease.

Lung Volume Reduction – A surgical procedure where portions of the lungs are removed to relieve diaphragm from constrictions and free up dead air spaces in emphysema for larger lung volume.

Lung Transplant – A major procedure for the end stage of lung disease.


Individuals with Airway Diseases often preserve through chronic symptoms that require ongoing management.  Many may experience multiple exacerbations, despite treatment. One should expect that these diseases may tend to progress more often than not. Individuals should take his or her maintenance medications and stop smoking to help prevent the onset of exacerbations. Frequent counseling with family members may be required to overcome the stresses and the challenges in the home environment.

It is important to recognize that medications and medical procedures are associated with benefits and risks that should be discussed with your physician. It is important to recognize that all information contained on this website cannot be considered to be specific medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or medical advice. As always, you should consult with a physician regarding any medical condition. Your Health Access disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.