Symptoms and Warning Signs of Respiratory Diseases

Catch any disease in the early stages is extremely important, and lung diseases and maladies are no different. The sooner a chronic disease or an acute illness is detected, the easier and quicker it will be treated, and the higher chance you have of living through it. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of the early stages of diseases like COPD and even lung cancer are usually subtle and often overlooked until the disease has progressed into the advanced stages.

Since this is often the case, it's important to consider family history of chronic diseases, so you will know to pay close attention to your physical state and to get tested for any diseases that run in your family. If you had relatives who died of lung cancer, you will need to pay special attention, and your doctor will likely order a regular screening to be done.

Here are the signs and symptoms that can be specific to the early stages of most lung diseases.


The earliest signs of COPD involve sputum, or the mucous coughed up from the lungs. Over the course of 3 weeks or more, with or without getting a cold, you would notice an increase in sputum production. It will also become much thicker than before, and there will be gradually be more of it, until it can choke you up when you cough some up. People in the early stages of COPD will also usually lose weight, even though they are eating the same as before.

Lung Cancer

You will most likely experience pain in your chest area, especially when you cough or breathe heavily from physical activity, with the pain always being in the same general area. A persistent cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks and failed to come along with any kind of chest cold or other cause. Pay attention to the mucous you cough up, so you can see if there is any tell tale blood.


Bacterial pneumonia comes on suddenly, and usually starts with teeth-chattering chills, severe fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, before it takes a bigger toll on the lungs. Non-bacterial pneumonia occurs after the initial illness, like a case of the flu or bronchitis that hasn't been properly treated in elderly people, or in people who already have a chronic lung condition. This is usually accompanied by a high fever and a tight, dry cough.

Asthma Attack

Even though the asthma attack itself can come on quickly, it always comes with a set of early warning signs. These warning signs can differ from person to person, so you should pay close attention your physical state if you have asthma. It's common for asthma to first affect the skin with red blotches around the chin and neck, or a flare-up of eczema. Peak flow readings will drop from the “green zone” to the “yellow zone”. You might also notice that your sinuses become irritated first, with anything from an itchy nose, to congestion and nasal drip.

Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

About Scott Ridl: Scott joined American Medical Sales and Rentals in 2008 as a Web Manager and Content Writer. He is a writer and designer. He is extensively trained on oxygen therapy products from leading manufacturers such as Inogen, Respironics, Chart, Invacare, ResMed and more. Scott works closely with respiratory therapists and oxygen specialists to educate the community about oxygen therapy products, COPD, asthma and lung diseases. He writes weekly columns and is passionate about educating the community on oxygen therapy and respiratory issues.

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