Respiratory Illness and Disease | Investigating with Lab Tests healthcare nt sickcare

What is a Respiratory Tract Infection? Types of Respiratory Illnesses

Respiratory or lung diseases are some of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Conditions like asthma, COPD, pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis can range from mild to severely debilitating, restricting daily activities. Appropriate lab testing aids in prompt diagnosis and guides ongoing management of respiratory illness.

This article discusses the most common respiratory diseases, their distinguishing symptoms, and the key medical laboratory investigations that provide vital data to supplement clinical assessment.

Types of Respiratory Illnesses

Some major categories of respiratory disease include:

  • Obstructive lung diseases - Limit airflow and cause breathlessness e.g. asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis.
  • Restrictive lung diseases - Reduce lung expansion, and volume e.g. pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis.
  • Infections - Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections affecting the lungs.
  • Airway diseases - Structural problems of airways e.g. cystic fibrosis.
  • Pulmonary vascular disease - Issues with blood vessels in lungs e.g. pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension.
  • Occupational lung diseases - Caused by environmental exposures e.g pneumoconiosis, mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer - Uncontrolled cell growth in lungs, leading to tumours.

Key Signs and Symptoms Respiratory Illness

While diagnoses are made clinically, some characteristic symptoms of major respiratory illnesses include:

  • Breathlessness - Shortness of breath during exertion or even at rest.
  • Wheezing, tightness in the chest.
  • Chronic, persistent cough - May be dry or produce sputum.
  • Excess sputum production.
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Recurrent respiratory infections.
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply.
  • Loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss.
  • Clubbed fingers or cyanosis (bluish discolouration) - In advanced disease.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Newborn

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in newborns, also known as neonatal RDS, is a breathing disorder that affects premature babies. Some key facts about it:

  • It occurs due to insufficient production of surfactant, a substance that keeps alveoli open so the lungs can inflate properly.
  • More common in babies born before 28 weeks gestation, as surfactant production normally begins after week 24.
  • The main symptoms are fast breathing, flaring of nostrils, retractions of the chest and abdomen, and grunting sounds with breathing.
  • Babies may have low oxygen levels and require oxygen therapy or ventilator support to breathe easier.
  • Chest x-rays show a characteristic diffuse granular/ground-glass appearance indicative of RDS.
  • Blood tests may reveal respiratory acidosis due to impaired gas exchange.
  • Surfactant replacement therapy helps treat RDS by restoring adequate surfactant levels.
  • Supportive care like oxygen, CPAP, and mechanical ventilation may be needed until the lungs mature.
  • RDS increases the risk of other complications like pulmonary haemorrhage, pneumonia, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
  • Mortality rates have declined with modern ventilation techniques and surfactant therapy but can still be significant.

Overall, RDS remains a leading cause of respiratory failure in preterm infants. Careful monitoring and supportive treatment in the NICU help manage most cases.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Adults

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in adults is a severe, life-threatening lung condition that prevents proper oxygenation of blood. Key facts:

  • It is caused by inflammation in lung tissues and small blood vessels that leads to fluid buildup, low oxygen, and respiratory failure.
  • Common risk factors include sepsis, pneumonia, trauma, inhaling harmful fumes, and pancreatitis.
  • Hallmark symptoms are sudden onset of severe shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and hypoxemia (low O2 levels).
  • Chest x-rays and CT scans show diffuse opacities and consolidations in the lungs.
  • Respiratory failure often requires mechanical ventilation and high levels of oxygen support.
  • No specific treatment exists; supportive ICU care aims to sustain oxygenation until the lungs recover.
  • Complications like barotrauma, fluid imbalance, and secondary infections are common.
  • The mortality rate remains high around 30-40% despite advances in ventilator management.
  • Those who recover from ARDS may have long-term lung damage and disability.

In summary, ARDS is a medical emergency requiring rapid diagnosis with imaging and blood gases, followed by appropriate treatment in intensive care to support respiration. Preventing further lung injury is key.

What is a Respiratory Tract Infection?

Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) refer to contagious infections affecting the respiratory system, including the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Key points:

  • Caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi spread via airborne droplets from coughing/sneezing or direct contact.
  • Upper RTIs affect the nose, throat, larynx, and sinuses (e.g. common cold, pharyngitis, laryngitis, sinusitis).
  • Lower RTIs involve the lungs like bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Symptoms can include cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, headache, shortness of breath.
  • RTIs range from mild annoyances like the common cold to serious, life-threatening infections like pneumonia.
  • Diagnosis is through clinical evaluation and may involve testing sputum, throat swabs, blood, and imaging like chest X-rays.
  • Bacterial infections are treated with appropriate antibiotics. Supportive therapy helps manage symptoms.
  • Prevention involves hand hygiene, avoiding contact with sick individuals, and vaccination for certain viruses like influenza.
  • RTIs are among the most common reasons people seek medical care globally. Young children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

In summary, respiratory tract infections encompass a wide range of contagious viral and bacterial infections impacting the upper and lower respiratory system in varying degrees of severity.

How to Test Respiratory Infection?

Laboratory and functional investigations are invaluable for confirming provisional diagnoses based on clinical presentation, determining disease severity, identifying any complications and monitoring progression or treatment efficacy.

Tests can be done on blood, sputum, breath, lung fluids and tissues. Here are some key examples:

Sputum Testing

  • Sputum culture - Identifies bacterial infections like TB.
  • AFB staining - Detects acid-fast bacilli like TB bacteria.
  • Fungal smear - Looks for fungal hyphae or yeasts.
  • Sputum cytology - Samples analyzed for cancer cells.

Blood Tests

  • Complete blood count - Anemia, and elevated WBCs may indicate infection.
  • Arterial blood gas - Evaluates oxygen and CO2 levels.
  • Serum immunoglobulins - Elevated IgE points to allergies/asthma.

Lung Function Tests

  • Spirometry - Measures lung volumes, and airflow obstruction.
  • Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) - Assesses large airways.
  • Diffusing capacity (DLCO) - Quantifies gas transfer efficiency.

Imaging Studies

  • Chest X-ray - Visualizes lung structure, and detects masses or fluid.
  • CT scan - Detailed views of lung tissue, helpful for cancer.
  • Echocardiography - Evaluates heart function related to lung disease.

Other Testing

  • Bronchoscopy - Camera to inspect airways, and collect samples.
  • Lung biopsy - Examines tissue under a microscope for diagnosis.
  • Pleural fluid analysis - Fluid around the lungs is analyzed for infection and cancer cells.
  • Exercise testing - Assesses oxygenation with exertion.
  • Allergy testing - Identifies potential triggers like dust mites.

Thus strategic use of laboratory investigations facilitates accurate diagnosis and optimal management of lung disorders.

When should you get tested for a respiratory illness?

Get tested if persistent symptoms like chronic cough, breathlessness, chest pain, and recurrent infections affect your daily life. Testing establishes the diagnosis and severity.

What sample types are required for lung tests?

Blood, sputum, lung fluids, tissues sampled via biopsy or during bronchoscopy and breath samples during PFTs may be analyzed. Imaging like X-rays and CT scans are also done.

How can I find a good pulmonology lab for testing?

Look for NABL-accredited labs using advanced technology and experienced staff. Review facility certifications and specialist pulmonary function equipment.

Why are repeat chest X-rays or sputum tests needed for some lung diseases?

Serial testing periodically monitors disease progression and treatment response. Any worsening like new lesions or drug resistance can be detected early.

Should lung function tests be done before surgery?

Yes, PFTs assess respiratory status before procedures requiring anaesthesia. Results help anticipate post-op risks and pulmonary complications.

Preparing for Your Lung Function or Sputum Test

To get accurate results from your scheduled lung tests:

  • Don't smoke for 24-48 hours beforehand as it affects readings.
  • Avoid large meals before testing as a full stomach may limit effort.
  • Inform the lab about any respiratory infections. Testing may be postponed.
  • If you use inhalers, ask your doctor when to take them before tests.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows free movement.
  • Undergo sputum sample collection under expert supervision.
  • Rinse your mouth before providing expectorated sputum sample.

Following precautions and technician guidance allows you to perform the tests effectively.

Interpreting and Discussing Your Lung Test Results

  • Note down the official diagnosis advised by your pulmonologist based on clinical findings and lab results.
  • Ask your doctor to explain the significance of reduced airflow volumes or diffusion capacity on PFTs.
  • Inquire about the implications of low oxygen or high CO2 levels on ABG analysis.
  • Discuss any concerns about changes from prior chest imaging or lung biopsy results.
  • Seek guidance on further testing needed for additional clues if the diagnosis remains unclear.
  • Understand the treatment plan, medication dosage, precautions etc. in light of the test findings.
  • Clarify doubts on prognosis, lifestyle modifications and self-management required.

Having an open dialogue with your pulmonologist allows you to make informed decisions.

Investigations like sputum culture, lung function tests, chest imaging and blood work provide invaluable data on the nature and severity of various respiratory disorders. They not only help accurately diagnose conditions like asthma, COPD, tuberculosis and lung cancer but also allow tracking of disease progression and treatment efficacy. Partnering with a reputable pulmonary diagnostics lab ensures you get reliable results. At healthcare nt sickcare, our network of accredited labs and experienced staff facilitate seamless respiratory illness testing. Contact us to learn about testing options or find a quality lab near you. Investing in the right respiratory lab tests provides the information you need to breathe easy!

Does smoke from firecrackers can damage the respiratory system?

Yes, smoke from firecrackers can damage the respiratory system in several ways:

  • The smoke contains high levels of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants that can irritate the airways when inhaled.
  • These particles and gases can inflame and constrict the airways, making breathing more difficult. This can exacerbate asthma and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
  • The pollutants may also reduce lung function by impairing oxygen exchange and lung capacity over time with repeated exposure.
  • Smoke from firecrackers generates a high amount of free radicals that can injure lung tissues and cells, causing oxidative stress.
  • The particulate matter penetrates deep into the lungs, causing inflammation of the smaller bronchial passageways and damage to the alveoli.
  • This lung inflammation and injury increases susceptibility to respiratory infections as the body's defence mechanisms are impaired.
  • Those with pre-existing respiratory diseases like asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis are at higher risk of adverse effects from firecracker smoke.
  • Prolonged exposure to firecracker smoke over many years further elevates the risk of developing chronic respiratory illness.

So in summary, the toxic fumes from bursting firecrackers, especially when exposure is high during festivals, can irritate, inflame and damage the respiratory system. It's best to avoid direct exposure to lung health.

Can blood tests fully diagnose respiratory problems?

No, while blood counts, ABG and immunoglobulins provide useful supplemental data, clinical assessment along with imaging, lung function and sputum testing are needed for accurate diagnosis of respiratory conditions.

What home remedies help manage respiratory symptoms?

Steam inhalation, drinking warm fluids, using ginger/turmeric/honey, staying well-hydrated and getting adequate rest may help temporarily alleviate respiratory discomforts. But get proper medical testing and treatment.

Is a Chest CT scan dangerous?

No, chest CT itself is not dangerous. It uses X-rays to create detailed images of lung structure and tissues. But CT does involve a higher radiation dose vs chest X-rays. Hence, CT is only advised when clinically warranted, based on initial test findings.

Can you reverse lung damage from respiratory illness?

The reversibility depends on the type and extent of damage. Early diagnosis through testing allows for timely treatment which can help minimize irreversible damage in certain conditions. Quitting smoking also helps the lungs recover over time.

How frequently should lung function be checked?

People with stable, well-managed lung disease may require annual PFTs. Those with progressive illness need more frequent monitoring, like every 3-6 months. Testing frequency is tailored to individual patient needs.

How to Check if a Chest X-ray Clinic is Reliable?

  • Look for radiology centres accredited by QCI, NABH or NABL to ensure quality.
  • Verify their registered radiologist has the needed qualifications and experience.
  • Check the X-ray machine conforms to AERB or state Atomic Energy Agency norms.
  • See if adequate radiation safety protocols and dosimeter badges for staff are in place.
  • Examine patient feedback and ratings online before selecting a clinic.
  • Avoid centres that push for unnecessary repetitive X-rays without clinical need.

How to Provide a Good Sputum Sample?

  • Don't eat or smoke for 1 hour before trying to cough up sputum.
  • Take steam or use a nebulizer to loosen mucus and make sputum easier to expel.
  • Rinse mouth thoroughly with water to avoid saliva contamination.
  • Cough deeply from the chest to bring up sputum into the mouth.
  • Spit out the sputum directly into the sterile collection container.
  • Seal the container securely and label it with name and date for prompt lab transport.
  • Provide at least 1-2mL sputum for adequate culture and analysis.

#respiratorytesting #lungtests #pulmonaryfunction


In summary, strategic use of laboratory testing is critical for assessing severity, guiding treatment and monitoring the progression in lung diseases. Sputum microbiology, lung function tests, chest imaging and blood work all provide objective data that complements clinical evaluation. Discuss suitable testing approaches with your pulmonologist and select a reputable lab to ensure you get reliable results. Stay informed and proactively manage your respiratory health.


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