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Signs & symptoms

Symptoms of lung disease tend to come on slowly and can be very mild. People often mistake their symptoms as signs of aging or lack of fitness. This leads to many people adjusting their daily activities to accommodate or reduce their symptoms, rather than getting help. Knowing the early warning signs of lung disease can help you receive treatment before the disease becomes serious or life threatening. If you experience any of the following warning signs, make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Common Symptoms 

  • Breathlessness

    Breathlessness is a common symptom of lung disease, however many people put breathlessness down to ageing, being overweight or unfit. Everyone gets breathlessness sometimes, it’s a natural response that your body needs more oxygen and energy when you do something that requires physical effort, such as running for a bus or exercising.  However, unexplained breathlessness needs to be addressed. You should visit your doctor if you experience any shortness of breath that is not expected from an activity and the current state of your fitness or health as it could indicate you have a problem with your lungs. 

  • Persistent cough

    Coughing is very common. Most of us have and will have episodes of lingering cough throughout our lives, but it can also be a symptom of many different medical conditionsA persistent cough is a cough that lasts for weeks.  It is more than just an annoyance. A persistent cough can interrupt your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. 

    There can be many different reasons for having a persistent cough; however, it is one of the most common symptoms of lung cancer and other lung diseases. A cough can vary from person to person and may be dry or moist/productive. If you have a moist cough, your Mucus should be clear or white in colour. If your mucus becomes yellow, green or bloody, it is important you see your health professional as soon as possible. 

    If you have a persistent cough for more than three weeks, its important to talk to your doctor. Take note of the duration, type and features of your cough, as well as any other symptoms of illness you are experiencing.   

     

  • Weight loss

    Unintentional weight loss is a sign of a serious issue, that should not be ignored.  Weight loss can be a sign of respiratory disease, particularly Lung Cancer or severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  It may be caused by the disease itself and an associated loss of interest in eating, by nausea, difficulty swallowing, breathlessness or decreased mood.  It is important to discuss any sudden, unexplained weight loss with your doctor.   

  • Fatigue

    One of the most common symptoms of lung disease is fatigue. At some stage in our life most of us have experienced tiredness, a feeling that normally goes away after a good night’s sleep.  Fatigue, however, is an excessive persistent feeling of tiredness that may not be alleviated by sleep or rest. It can affect the way you think, including poor concentration and memory loss, as well as make you feel more emotional than usual. Fatigue can also affect your ability to do everyday tasks such as taking a shower or making your dinner.  If you are feeling fatigued, it is important to let your health professional know so that the cause can be investigated. 

  • Wheeze

    Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while you breathe. It is generally heard when you breathe out (exhale) and is caused by narrowed airways or inflammation. Asthma and COPD are the most common causes of wheezing. However, it can be triggered for many other reasons, including viral or bacterial respiratory infection. Wheezing usually occurs when the flow of air is restricted due to a narrowing or blockage in the airways leading to the lungs. A slight wheeze may barely register in the course of our busy days, but it is important to pay attention to such symptoms as they could be the first signs of lung disease, including COPD, asthma and lung cancer. 

     

  • Chest infections

    A chest infection is an infection of the lungs.  If the infection is in the smaller air sacs of the lungs (the alveoli) it is called pneumonia. If it is in the larger airways (the bronchiit is called bronchitis. The airways become swollen and make more mucus or pus which blocks the airways and makes it hard to breathe.  Chest infections are usually caused by either bacteria or viruses. Pneumonia is often caused by bacteria, and bronchitis is often caused by viruses. Occasionally, chest infections can be caused by fungi. 

  • Mucus production

     Mucus, also called sputum or phlegm, is produced by the airways as a defence against infections, allergens or irritants It can also be caused by chronic respiratory conditions, such as COPD or Bronchiectasis. While a small amount of mucus every once in a while, is normal, an increased amount of mucus build-up that lasts a month or longer may be a cause for concern, and a reason to see your doctor.  

  • Coughing up blood

     If you are coughing up blood or have frothy blood-streaked mucus  (sputum/phlegm), it may be coming from your lungs or upper respiratory tractBlood that comes from the lungs or respiratory tract will often appear bubbly.  This is because it’s been mixed with air and mucus in the lungs.  Despite where the blood is coming from, it signals a health problem and should be discussed with your doctor immediately. 

     

  • Chronic chest pain

     Chest pain is a symptom associated with many conditions. It can be a sign of a heart attack or cardiac condition but is also commonly related to lung disease. Chest pain should always be taken seriously, especially if it lasts for a month or more, or if it gets worse when you breathe in or cough. 

When to book an appointment with your GP? 

You should see a doctor straight away, or go to a hospital emergency department, if: 

 You are short of breath 

  • It hurts to breathe 
  • You have a fever (38o C or above) 
  • You are coughing up a lot of mucus (particularly if it is yellow or green in colour) 
  • There is blood in the mucus 
  • Your symptoms are not improving, or they are getting worse 
  • You have a heart or lung disease, such as heart failure or asthma.

If you are concerned about your lung health, or are experiencing any of these symptoms, complete our online Lung Health Checklist and book an appointment with your GP immediately.  

Next steps

During your appointment, your GP will ask about your symptom history. It is a good idea to think about when you first noticed your symptoms and whether these symptoms have developed or changed over time. This type of information will help to inform your GP when making a diagnosis.

Your GP may perform a physical examination which will include listening to your chest with a stethoscope. You may want to wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment.

Based on your physical examination and pattern of symptoms, your doctor will decide if further testing is required. Further tests could include lung function testing (spirometry) or a high-resolution CT scan.

If you have any questions, we are here to help you navigate through and connect you with support services and programs. Contact our Information and Support Centre to find out more, on the free call number 1800 654 301.