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What Is Emphysema?

Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that causes the air sacs in your lungs to become damaged. This disease commonly occurs alongside chronic bronchitis to produce COPD.

Overview: What is Emphysema?

Your air sacs (alveoli) are responsible for exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen to and from your bloodstream. These air sacs are typically comprised of many inner lining walls that increase the surface area of your lungs.

Symptoms of Emphysema

Emphysema causes damage to these linings, which leads to more spacious air sacs with less surface area for processing oxygen and carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the damaged air sacs do not release air properly when exhaling, so fresh air rich with oxygen has less space to occupy when you inhale.

Emphysema is not a curable disease, but medical treatment can provide assistance in slowing the progression of the disease and help manage its symptoms. Recognizing the symptoms of emphysema is important because diagnosing it in its early stages allows for a wider range of treatment options.

How is emphysema diagnosed?

Symptoms of Emphysema

Since diagnosing emphysema as early as possible in its stages of development is important, your physician may order a variety of tests for an accurate assessment. Additionally, he or she will review your medical history, your health and lifestyle and ask questions about smoking or if you’ve had any exposure to breathing foreign agents.

Tests your physician may order include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Pulmonary function test
  • Blood-gas analysis

How is emphysema treated?

As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for emphysema. However, treatment options are available that aim to slow the disease’s progression and help manage the symptoms.

If you smoke, the first course of treatment for emphysema is to quit smoking. If the disease is diagnosed early enough, quitting smoking may be all that is necessary to slow the disease’s progression.

Additional treatment options include:

  • Bronchodilators – these medications help improve your ability to breath by relaxing your airways.
  • Steroids – these help reduce inflammation to fight shortness of breath.
  • Antibiotics – these assist in treating lung infections which can aggravate the symptoms of emphysema.
  • Oxygen therapy – you may require supplemental oxygen at certain times of the day or throughout the entire day.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – this treatment focuses on improving your lifestyle with exercises, nutritional guidance and counseling to help you breathe better.
  • Cellular therapy (PRP-PC) – Using a person’s own blood, cells to are separated and isolated. These concentrated cells are then returned into the bloodstream.

In extreme cases, surgery may be required to remove damaged tissue from the lungs. A lung transplant may also be available if you qualify. For questions about qualification, you need to speak with your primary care provider.

Is emphysema preventable?

stop smoking

Since emphysema is common among smokers, the main method of prevention is to not smoke. If you currently smoke, quitting now will greatly reduce your chances of developing emphysema.

If you work in dusty, smoky or chemical-ridden environments, you can reduce your chances of developing emphysema by wearing proper safety equipment and following safety instructions.

Would you like to speak with a patient coordinator at Lung Health Institute about emphysema? Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or would like to know more about prevention, we’re available to talk with you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.


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Every day Lung Health Institute is changing people’s lives. Our duty and obligation is to help our patients, and we know we are doing something special for them. We measure our success by our patients’ success and their satisfaction with our services and the care they receive from our dedicated staff.


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