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Obstructive Vs. Restrictive Lung Disease: Comparison Guide

Obstructive Vs. Restrictive Lung Disease: Comparison Guide

Apria Editorial |

Conditions that make it difficult to expel all the air from the lungs are included in the category of obstructive lung disease. In comparison, those with restrictive lung disease struggle to breathe adequately because their lungs cannot expand to their full capacity.

It's not always easy to tell the difference between obstructive lung disease and restrictive lung disease, but medical professionals and diagnostic tools can. In this article, ApriaHome compares obstructive vs. restrictive lung disease. Learn about the types, causes, symptoms & treatment options here to manage your lung problems!

Distinguishing between obstructive and restrictive lung disease is an important first step in making a diagnosis. While both categories can cause shortness of breath, there are distinguishing factors. Conditions that make it difficult for the lungs to expel all the air are included in the category of obstructive lung disease. In comparison, those with restrictive lung disease struggle to breathe adequately because their lungs cannot expand to their full capacity.

It's not always easy to tell the difference between obstructive lung disease and restrictive lung disease, but medical professionals and diagnostic tools can.

Chronic lung disorders are diagnosed by pulmonary function tests, which measure a person's lung capacity by having them blow forcefully into a mouthpiece. A machine tracks the amount of air inhaled and exhaled while the patient performs different breathing exercises. Pulmonary function testing is used to diagnose indicators of obstructive and restrictive lung disease and the degree to which they have progressed. Once a diagnosis has been made, a proper course of treatment can follow.

In this article, ApriaHome compares obstructive vs. restrictive lung disease. Learn about the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment options here to manage your lung problems!

What Is Obstructive Lung Disease?

Obstructive lung illnesses are distinguished by a blockage in the airways, resulting in delayed and shallow exhalation.

When swelling and inflammation constrict or block the airways, obstruction occurs, making it challenging for the lungs to expel air. Consequently, an unusually large amount of air remains in the lungs after exhalation. This can cause air trapped in the lungs and lung hyperinflation, both of which exacerbate respiratory distress.

What Are Types Of Obstructive Lung Disease?

Obstructive conditions affecting the lungs include:

  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Asthma

What Is Restrictive Lung Disease?

Unlike obstructive lung diseases, restrictive lung diseases are characterized by a lack of lung expansion in response to inhalation. As a result, restrictive lung disease causes a decreased lung capacity.

Restrictive lung diseases are onset by neurological, extrinsic, or intrinsic conditions.

What Are Types Of Restrictive Lung Disease?

Pulmonary Parenchyma Diseases / Intrinsic Lung Diseases

Among the spectrum of lung-restriction-related conditions known as "intrinsic restrictive disorders" are:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pneumoconioses
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Cancer surgery - pneumonectomy and lobectomy
  • Pneumonia

Extrapulmonary Diseases / Extrinsic Lung Diseases

Illnesses that cause breathing difficulties but have no apparent pulmonary origin are extrinsic restrictive diseases. Damage from these sources includes:

  • Pneumonic effusion
  • Cancerous tumors
  • Ascites
  • Rib fractures
  • Scoliosis
  • Obesity
  • Pleurisy

Neurological Restrictive Lung Diseases

Central nervous system disorders can create a restrictive disease in the lungs, making it difficult to take a deep breath in and out.

The most frequent reasons include the following:

  • Diaphragm paralysis
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Muscular dystrophy

It is also possible for a patient to have indications on tests that point to a dual diagnosis of restrictive and obstructive illness, e.g. COPD & pneumonia. Certain disorders induce an obstructive pattern at first and a restrictive pattern as the disease progresses.

What Are The Causes Of Obstructive Lung Diseases?

The most common cause of obstructive lung disease is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Bronchiectasis

COPD describes a range of conditions that develop after years of exposure to irritants that harm the lungs and airways. Although tobacco use is a significant risk factor for developing COPD, the condition may also affect those who have never smoked. The most common causes include:

  • Smoking:
    Cigarette smoking is responsible for 85-90% of all instances of obstructive lung disease. More than 7,000 compounds, many of which are toxic, are produced through cigarette smoking. These toxins contribute to COPD by decreasing lung function, leaving airways more narrow, inflaming air tubes, and destroying air sacs.

  • Environmental Pollutants:
    The air quality where you work, live, and socialize may all play a part in the progression of obstructive lung diseases. For example, COPD is brought on by prolonged exposure to hazardous air pollutants such as smog, secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, and chemicals, many of which are encountered in the workplace.

  • Lack of Alpha-1 Protein:
    Alpha-1 deficiency-related emphysema is an extremely uncommon type of COPD. Inherited COPD occurs when the body lacks the capacity to manufacture a lung-protecting protein: Alpha-1.

What Are the Causes Of Restrictive Lung Diseases?

"Pleural, alveolar, interstitial, neuromuscular, and thoracic cage" abnormalities or disorders are the causes of restrictive lung disorders and may be memorized using the acronym "PAINT".

Causes of restrictive lung syndromes include:

  • Conditions originating from outside of the lungs ‒ extrinsic causes
  • Chronic conditions affecting the functional lung tissue ‒ intrinsic causes

Extrinsic restrictive lung diseases stem from neuromuscular problems, obesity, and other conditions not directly affecting the lungs. In contrast, intrinsic lung diseases impact the functional lung tissue directly.

Inflammation and scarring of lung tissue often cause restricted lung diseases to develop.

Scarring of the lungs is a common complication of several different diseases, all of which fall under the category of intrinsic lung disease. The stiffness brought on by the scarring makes it hard to take deep breaths and get enough oxygen into the blood. Most of the time, the effects of interstitial lung disease are progressive and permanent.

Common causes include:

  • Drug-induced lung disease
  • Connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Sarcoidosis

Disorders of the rib cage, pleura, and respiratory muscles are all associated with extrinsically restricted lung diseases. A membrane called the pleura lines the interior of the rib cage and extends to protect the lungs. Consequences of damage to these tissues include respiratory failure, diminished lung function, and airflow obstruction.

Common causes include:

  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Scoliosis or curvature of the spine
  • Obesity
  • Myasthenia gravis, also known as intermittent muscular weakness
  • Rib damage due to breaks or fractures
  • Diaphragm paralysis
  • Kyphosis, hunched posture in the upper back

What Are the Symptoms Of Obstructive Lung Disease & Restrictive Lung Disease?

Shortness of breath and chest pain symptoms of both obstructive and restrictive lung diseases. In the first phases of obstructive or restrictive lung disease, shortness of breath only occurs during physical activity. As the condition progresses, shortness of breath will develop at rest or with mild exertion.

Restrictive and obstructive lung disorders may manifest with a persistent cough. The cough is often dry or produces a thin, white phlegm. Obstructive lung diseases are also characterized by the production of colored sputum.

People with both obstructive and restrictive lung disease often experience depressive and anxious symptoms. These symptoms become more common when lung disease affects daily activities to a large degree and cause extreme fatigue or weight fluctuations.

How Can You Distinguish Between An Obstructive Vs. Restrictive Lung Disease?

Those who suffer from obstructive lung disease often struggle to exhale fully, contributing to their chronic shortness of breath. Exhalation will be slower than usual because of lung damage or narrowed airways. This can lead to an unusually large quantity of air remaining in the lungs even after a complete exhalation.

Those who suffer from restrictive lung disorders are unable to fill their lungs up with air upon inhalation, and their lungs are unable to expand fully. This is usually due to a restriction caused by lung rigidity, muscular weakness, or damaged nerves.

Doctors will differentiate between the two by examining the differences in lung volumes. Respiration is cut off early in the obstructed lung, raising the functional residual capacity (FRC) and residual volume (RV) of the lungs. Normally, the residual volume of air in the lungs after exhalation is about 3L. In the obstructed lung, this will be a lot higher.

Volumes are minimal in the restricted lung because inhalation is limited owing to decreased or restricted lung function.

What Are Obstructive Lung Disease Treatment Options?

There is no cure for most obstructive lung diseases; however, medication may help decrease the illness's development and regulate symptoms. The goal of treating obstructive lung disease is to improve airflow and reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Treatment options include:

  • Inhalers and medicine to assist with breathing by reducing inflammation or treating infection.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a specialized exercise and education program to promote better breathing and lifestyle changes.
  • Reducing exposure to pollutants, cigarette smoke, dust, and chemicals.
  • Surgery or lung transplants in severe life-threatening cases.

Consult our in-depth COPD guide for more information regarding causes, symptoms, and treatment solutions.

What Are Restrictive Lung Disease Treatment Options?

To alleviate the symptoms of restriction and manage the condition, a wide variety of therapies are at the patient's disposal. Your medical team will evaluate factors such as age, medical history, and general health to determine the best course of therapy.

The primary treatment objectives for restrictive lung disorders is to facilitate breathing and slow the disease's progression.

  • Immunosuppressants:
    The scarring and hardening of the lungs, other organs, and the lining of the joints may be caused by an autoimmune illness because the immune system is attacking healthy cells. Immunosuppressants are medications used to stop the immune system from mistakenly attacking healthy cells.

  • Inhalers:
    These handheld devices deliver a concentrated dose of medication directly into the bronchi for instant relief from respiratory problems. This reduces lung inflammation and halts the progression of the condition.

  • Expectorants:
    Restrictive lung diseases are characterized by a buildup of phlegm and mucus in the airways. Those employed in hazardous environments, such as factories and mines, are much more vulnerable. If the lungs are unable to expel the dust, scar tissue forms. Both tablet and liquid forms of expectorants are commercially available. These medications assist clear the airways of mucus.

  • Weight Loss:
    Breathing can also be restricted by obesity hypoventilation syndrome. People with extreme obesity are more likely to develop this condition. When there is excess fat around the chest muscles, breathing becomes labored. Weight loss and lifestyle changes are key treatments for this condition.

Patients with restrictive pulmonary disorders will also benefit from:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation programs
  • Surgery, lung transplant, and experimental stem cell treatments
  • Reducing exposure to pollutants, cigarette smoke, dust, and chemicals
  • Antibiotic medicine to clear infections and ease breathing

Oxygen Therapy For Chronic Lung Conditions

In conclusion, obstructive lung diseases are conditions that hinder a patient's ability to exhale all the air from their lungs, while restrictive respiratory diseases prevent a patient's ability to get air into the lungs. Both types can cause shortness of breath and can lead to reduced oxygen levels that require supplemental oxygen therapy.

With supplemental oxygen therapy, concentrated oxygen is supplied from a portable tank and administered through a mask and a tube, thereby facilitating normal breathing rates and the absorption of concentrated oxygen.

Your doctor determines how much oxygen treatment you need depending on your specific condition. Supplemental oxygen can be delivered through the use of positive airway pressure therapy or oxygen concentrators. Oxygen levels are monitored and managed with the help of pulse oximeters.

The ApriaHome Home Treatment Kit For Chronic Lung Conditions

ApriaHome sources and supplies a comprehensive range of durable home medical equipment solutions, all available from the convenience of our medical supply portal.

Oxygen Therapy:

Pulse Oximetry Solutions: Replacement Tubing: Sun Med Salter Labs® Oxygen Tubing

Positive Airway Solutions

No one should have to struggle to breathe. Those with a diagnosis of either restrictive or obstructive lung disease and those experiencing chronic lung diseases may benefit from our extensive range of respiratory solutions to help restore health and well-being.

Our goal is to help you make the most of every day by helping you manage, monitor, and prolong your chronic lung disease progression from the comfort and convenience of your own home. You can view our range of respiratory, CPAP, Oxygen therapy, and pulse oximetry solutions today. Order now and receive free nationwide delivery on all purchases over $99.

Looking for advice about chronic lung conditions? Our helpful agents are on call at (800) 780-1508 between 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST daily. Get in touch today.


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