In clinical settings, patients often present with various respiratory symptoms such as congestion, coughing, and wheezing. While identifying a symptom’s underlying illness can be challenging, it is essential because even basic symptoms such as persistent coughing can be a sign of a more severe disorder. Advanced practice nurses must be able to differentiate between moderate and severe respiratory disorders, as well as properly diagnose and prescribe treatment for their patients. For this reason, you must have an understanding of the pathophysiology of respiratory disorders.

Consider the following three scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Ms. Teel brings in her 7-month-old infant for evaluation. She is afraid that the baby might have respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) because she seems to be coughing a lot, and Ms. Teel heard that RSV is a common condition for infants. A detailed patient history reveals that the infant has been coughing consistently for several months. It’s never seemed all that bad. Ms. Teel thought it was just a normal thing, but then she read about RSV. Closer evaluation indicates that the infant coughs mostly at night; and, in fact, most nights the baby coughs to some extent. Additionally, Ms. Teel confirms that the infant seems to cough more when she cries. Physical examination reveals an apparently healthy age- and weight-appropriate, 7-month-old infant with breath sounds that are clear to auscultation. The infant’s medical history is significant only for eczema that was actually quite bad a few months back. Otherwise, the only remarkable history is an allergic reaction to amoxicillin that she experienced 3 months ago when she had an ear infection.