Acute Versus Chronic And Why The Distinction Matters

For any individual with a breathing condition, learning to not only live with the diagnosis but improve outcomes are essential for having a better quality of life. When describing diseases or conditions, physicians will often use the phrases acute or chronic. Acute simply means that a condition appears suddenly and is often short-lived. In contrast, chronic conditions may take time to develop and can get worse as time progresses. Depending on which type of onset a patient experiences, healthcare providers may recommend different breathing treatments.

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Classifying asthma and treatment methods

Asthma is a condition that impacts more than 25 million Americans. Traditionally, the condition is viewed as a chronic disease that currently doesn’t have a cure. However sudden flare-ups, also known as asthma attacks, are classified as acute asthma exacerbation. Most experts agree that prevention is the best form of treatment. Along with avoiding potentially known triggers such as pollen, smoke, or pet dander, patients should work with a specialist to create a treatment plan that may incorporate medications ranging from rescue inhalers to quickly manage asthma attack symptoms, and long-term inhalers or other medications to stabilize respiratory function over time.

Treating respiratory failure

Respiratory failure is a condition where an individual’s lungs struggle to properly infuse oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. Depending on whether a person has low oxygen or high carbon dioxide levels, treatments will vary. Acute respiratory failure can appear suddenly and must be treated as an emergency while chronic respiratory failure will rely on long-term solutions to control symptoms and side effects. For acute patients, common treatments include oxygen therapy or a ventilator. Some patients with a more serious prognosis may require a tracheostomy. Long-term treatments often center on focusing on what caused respiratory failure such as treating a bacterial infection, removing blood clots, or even inhalers to improve airway flow.

COPD treatments

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic condition that inflames the lungs and causes airflow obstruction. Symptoms can be similar to asthma with wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, and mucus production being the most common. Similar to respiratory failure, treatment for COPD can vary widely depending on severity. For mild cases, smoking cessation may be the only treatment needed. However, more chronic cases may require bronchodilators which can include rescue or long-term treatment inhalers.

Treating emphysema

Severe cases of COPD are often diagnosed as emphysema, a disease classified as when the air sacs in the lungs are no longer able to properly inflate to move air in and out. Along with smoking cessation and avoiding irritants, treatment can also include inhaled and oral steroids in bronchodilators, or combination inhalers for symptom control. Lung therapies such as supplemental oxygen and even long-term pulmonary rehabilitation may also be necessary.

Working towards better breathing

Although many respiratory conditions can be chronic with no known cure, patients can gain control and improve breathing. Regardless of the diagnosis, taking a proactive approach means working with a specialist to create a customized breathing treatment plan. Usually, the plan will focus on controlling symptoms to improve airflow and minimize the risk of flare-ups. Along with taking any prescribed medications, patients with breathing conditions should work to avoid known triggers, and maintain regular doctor’s visits.