The respiratory system starts at the nose and mouth and continues through the airways and the lungs. Air enters the respiratory system through the nose and mouth and passes down the throat (pharynx) and through the voice box, or larynx. The entrance to the larynx is covered by a small flap of tissue (epiglottis) that automatically closes during swallowing, thus preventing food or drink from entering the airways. (See also Overview of the Respiratory System Overview of the Respiratory System To sustain life, the body must produce sufficient energy. Energy is produced by burning molecules in food, which is done by the process of oxidation (whereby food molecules are combined with... read more .)
Doctors may suspect a problem with the lungs or airways based on symptoms. Symptoms of lung disorders often affect breathing and may include
Coughing up sputum
Symptoms that affect other parts of the body may also suggest a lung disorder is present. People with a lung disorder may have
Other, more general symptoms, such as fever, weakness, fatigue, or a general feeling of illness or discomfort (malaise), sometimes also reflect a lung or airway disorder. Some symptoms, such as cough or wheezing, may indicate a lung disorder. Disorders that affect the nerves or muscles, such as myasthenia gravis Myasthenia Gravis Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder that impairs communication between nerves and muscles, resulting in episodes of muscle weakness. Myasthenia gravis results from malfunction of the... read more and Guillain-Barré syndrome Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) Guillain-Barré syndrome is a form of polyneuropathy causing muscle weakness, which usually worsens over a few days to weeks, then slowly returns to normal on its own. With treatment, people... read more , cause weakness of the respiratory muscles and lung symptoms.
Respiratory symptoms may be minor (such as a cough caused by a cold) or life threatening (such as severe breathing difficulty).
The characteristics and pattern of symptoms help doctors diagnose the lung disorder.
When people have symptoms that suggest a lung disorder, doctors ask specific questions about the symptoms and other relevant factors (the medical history Medical History and Physical Examination for Lung Disorders A doctor first asks the person about symptoms. Chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath (dyspnea) either at rest or during exertion, cough, coughing up of sputum or blood (hemoptysis), and... read more ). Doctors usually also do a physical examination Medical History and Physical Examination for Lung Disorders A doctor first asks the person about symptoms. Chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath (dyspnea) either at rest or during exertion, cough, coughing up of sputum or blood (hemoptysis), and... read more to evaluate all of the body systems, but they focus on the respiratory system. Depending on the results of the medical history and examination, diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.