Lung Disease

What does pulmonary rehabilitation involve?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor has recommended pulmonary rehabilitation for my COPD. What will this involve?

DEAR READER: COPD stands for "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease." This group of disorders damages the lungs and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. Common symptoms include a mucus-producing cough, breathlessness, rapid breathing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and fatigue.

What are pulmonary nodules — can they cause lung cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K:I saw my doctor because I've been getting short of breath. He did an X-ray and CT scan that found three small "pulmonary nodules." Do I have lung cancer?

DEAR READER: There are few things more frustrating, for both you and your doctor, than when the doctor says: "Well, it's almost surely nothing to worry about ... but there is a small possibility that it's bad." How often does that happen? Pretty much every day, in my experience.

What does positive reading on a Mantoux test mean?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 6-year-old just had a positive reading on her Mantoux test. What does this mean?

DEAR READER: Doctors perform a Mantoux test to see if someone may have been exposed to bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). TB is a bacterial infection that typically infects the lungs. Fortunately, in most people exposed to the bacteria, TB never develops.

As a longtime smoker should I be screened for lung cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a longtime smoker. Do I need to be screened for lung cancer even if I don't have any symptoms?

DEAR READER: Until recently, my answer would have been "no." In the not-too-distant past, screening of people without symptoms -- even smokers who were at high risk -- was judged useless for lung cancer. That's because screening for lung cancer involved using standard chest X-rays, and they produced too many "false positive" results: They identified "spots" in the lungs that were harmless.

What are the health effects of secondhand smoke?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband smokes. Is secondhand smoke really as dangerous for me as I've heard?

DEAR READER: When I first became a doctor, very few people thought that secondhand smoke affected your health. I was one of the skeptics. It just seemed like the amount of smoke you take into your lungs when you smoke is so much more than when you are with a smoker.

What is a pulmonary function test?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor thinks I may have asthma. He wants to do a pulmonary function test. What can I expect?

DEAR READER: Pulmonary function testing examines different aspects of how your lungs function. During the test, you will breathe in and out through a tube that is connected to various machines. A test called spirometry measures how forcefully you can inhale and exhale while taking as large a breath as possible. Give this test your best effort. You can skew the results by not trying hard.

How can I control my chronic bronchitis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: After years of smoking I've developed chronic bronchitis. Every morning I cough up lots of mucus. What can I do to control this cough?

DEAR READER: Chronic bronchitis is a common form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD refers to a group of disorders that damage the lungs and make breathing increasingly difficult over time. Most cases of COPD are related to cigarette smoking.