Have you ever wondered why individuals with diabetes might struggle more with their breathing? For many years, diabetes and respiratory health complications have been interconnected. It’s a bit of a mystery that goes beyond just sugar levels. As a matter of fact, a study cited by the Pulmonary Associates of Richmond says that people with diabetes, especially those who have had it for a long time, are up to 27% more likely to show signs of lung disease, showing an important connection that needs resolution. 

In this article, we’re going to dig into why diabetes breathing issues occur and how irregular blood sugar levels can lead to more respiratory concerns. Let’s dive in and solve this diabetic puzzle together! 

How does diabetes affect the respiratory system?

Diabetes mellitus, a metabolic disorder causing abnormal blood sugar levels, significantly affects our respiratory system. It brings about various changes, impacting both the structure and function of our breathing.

One main way diabetes affects respiratory health is by causing chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. These processes lead to structural alterations in the airways, like thickening of the basement membrane and increased collagen deposition, which can make breathing harder.

Moreover, diabetes-related issues such as neuropathy and microvascular damage can harm the neural control of breathing and the function of respiratory muscles. For example, diabetic neuropathy can weaken the diaphragm, reducing respiratory muscle strength and ventilation capacity. Additionally, diabetic autonomic neuropathy can disrupt normal breathing regulation, potentially causing problems like sleep apnea and hypoventilation syndromes.

Why are people with diabetes more likely to face respiratory risks?

A study executed at the Weizmann Institute of Science reveals crucial insights into why individuals with diabetes are more prone to respiratory infections, particularly severe lung diseases caused by viruses such as influenza or COVID-19. Here’s what the study tells us:

Increased Risk: People with diabetes are more likely to get severe lung diseases when they catch viruses, bacteria, or fungi. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this risk was even higher. Diabetic individuals had a greater chance of getting very sick or dying from lung problems if they got infected.

Immune Dysfunction: High blood sugar messes up certain cells in the lungs that help the immune system fight infections. These cells, called lung dendritic cells, can’t do their job properly when blood sugar is high. It means the immune system can’t fight off infections well, leading to serious lung problems and possibly death.

Metabolic Mechanisms: Changes in how sugar is used in lung dendritic cells cause harmful substances to build up. These substances disrupt how genes are controlled, leading to the wrong immune proteins being made. As a result, the immune system can’t protect the body from infections as effectively.

Potential Interventions: There are ways to help diabetic individuals reduce their risk of getting severe lung infections. Keeping blood sugar levels under control with insulin or using special drugs can fix the problems with lung dendritic cells. It helps the immune system work better, lowering the risk of serious lung infections.

Clinical Implications: This study’s findings are important for doctors and patients, especially since many people have diabetes worldwide. Controlling blood sugar levels could lower the chances of getting bad lung infections for diabetic individuals. Also, medicines that target the gene problems caused by high sugar levels might prevent severe lung infections. Testing these treatments on people, especially through inhalation, could be helpful in the future.

Overall, this research provides crucial insights into the underlying mechanisms linking diabetes and respiratory risks, offering potential avenues for mitigating the impact of respiratory infections in diabetic individuals.

Lung diseases associated with diabetes

Diabetes is linked to an increased susceptibility to developing various lung diseases. These are as follows:


Asthma, a common chronic respiratory condition, affects people of all ages and typically starts in childhood. Triggers such as allergens (like pollen, dust mites, or pet dander), respiratory infections, exercise, and cold air can worsen asthma symptoms. These symptoms can vary from person to person and may range from mild to severe, with some individuals experiencing occasional flare-ups.

Can diabetes cause breathing problems like asthma? It’s important to note that asthma and diabetes can coexist. The relationship between these conditions may stem from common risk factors such as inflammation, obesity, and genetic factors. 

COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe. It usually involves two main conditions: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD often have symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, which can worsen over time. 

Can diabetes cause COPD? Yes. Both COPD and diabetes may share common risk factors like smoking, obesity, and inflammation, which can contribute to their coexistence. Managing both conditions requires careful attention to medication, lifestyle changes, and regular check-ups with healthcare providers to maintain overall health and well-being.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a condition that typically initiates within the lungs, often emerging from the cells that form the lining of the airways. It’s often linked to smoking but can also occur in non-smokers due to other factors like exposure to secondhand smoke, pollution, or genetic predisposition. Diabetes patients may be susceptible to developing lung cancer, possibly due to shared risk factors like smoking, obesity, and inflammation. However, the concrete relationship between diabetes and lung cancer is still being investigated. 


Understanding the diabetic puzzle is essential for effectively managing and preventing respiratory complications. If you have diabetes, you face an increased risk of respiratory issues, such as infections and breathing difficulties. Furthermore, to ensure the prevention of other health complications linked to irregular blood sugar levels, follow the necessary measures to keep your condition managed and controlled.