Emphysema, can be part of a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD which affects millions of Americans. Emphysema occurs when the lungs’ natural airspaces, called alveoli, become larger but the amount get decreased. In this condition, the lungs lose their natural elasticity. This reduces the amount of oxygen transferred by the lungs to the bloodstream. And at the same time, air is trapped in these spaces and can not be exhaled as usual, which making it harder for you to breathe.
Smoking is still the top one cause of emphysema. Many emphysema patients are smokers or have smoked in the past. About 80% to 90% chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients have smoking history. As we all know, cigarettes contain many different chemicals, many of which are cancer-causing or toxic to your lungs. Second smoking also could increase the risk of developing this disease. Exposure to air pollution, such as chemical fumes, dust, and other substances is also an important cause of emphysema. Besides, respiratory tract infection also contributes to the development of emphysema. As we age, there would be some changes in the lungs and air sacs. Losing elasticity may also become one of the causes of emphysema.
Emphysema is a progressive disease. At the early stage of emphysema, most people experience few symptoms. As time goes on, some people may develop shortness of breath. In the beginning, shortness of breath may only appear during some strenuous activities. As the condition progresses, they may be hard breathing even when at rest or sleeping. Other symptoms of emphysema may include coughing, wheezing, difficulty sleeping, constant fatigue, chest tightness, weight loss or morning headache.
There is no cure for emphysema. But treatments could relive the signs and symptoms. The most important step you can take in treating emphysema is to quit smoking. If you don’t stop smoking, no treatment option would be effective for you.
Common emphysema treatment is drug medication such as bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroid medications, antibiotics and vaccines. These drug medications could reduce inflammation of the airways and help prevent exacerbations.
If you are suffering from severe emphysema and have low levels of oxygen in blood, then oxygen therapy would be a good choice. Talk to your doctor to determine if you are suitable for this treatment.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a form of physical therapy. It helps emphysema patients conserve energy, improve stamina and reduce breathlessness.
For people with advanced stages of emphysema, some other treatments may be considered. There are three main types of surgery used in treating emphysema such as bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation.