Emphysema- This is a pathological condition of the lungs in which individuals affected by it have difficulty with breathing. This condition is more prevalent in people who are chronic smokers. This condition arises when the minute linings of the air sacs are damaged severely and cannot be repaired.

What Is Emphysema?

Emphysema is a medical condition, found mostly in chronic smokers, in which there is progressive damage to the alveoli in the lungs resulting in frequent episodes of shortness of breath. Emphysema is a part of the disease conditions which cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As stated, smoking is the primary cause of Emphysema. In Emphysema, the inner walls of the alveoli become weak and ultimately rupture thus creating one large air space instead of numerous small ones. This ultimately reduces surface area of lungs resulting in reduced amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream. When an affected individual breathes out, since the alveoli are damaged and not working properly the old air stays trapped in the sacs and hence there is no space for fresh air to enter the alveoli. So far, treatments have slowed down the progression of Emphysema but the damage caused by it is not reversed.

What Are The Causes Of Emphysema?

Some Of The Leading Causes Of Emphysema Are:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Marijuana smoking
  • Inhaling polluted air
  • Chemical fumes in the working environment

What Are The Risk Factors For Emphysema?

Some of The Risk Factors For Development of Emphysema Are:

  • Smoking: As stated, Emphysema develops mostly in people who are chronic smokers. With each passing year of smoking, the amount of risk increases.
  • Age: Majority of people with Emphysema start experiencing symptoms between the ages of 40-60.
  • Exposure to Secondhand Smoke: Secondhand smoke also increases the risk for developing Emphysema hence it is always better to keep distance from smokers when they are smoking to decrease the risk.
  • Occupational Exposure to Fumes or Dust: Fumes that arise from certain chemicals which come from burning grains, cotton, wood and other mining products increase the risk for Emphysema.

What Are The Symptoms Of Emphysema?

An individual can have Emphysema for a significant period of time but still may not experience any symptoms. The primary symptom of Emphysema is progressive shortness of breath. Individuals may gradually start to stay away from normal activities for fear of aggravating shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, the individual starts experiencing shortness of breath even at rest.


How Is Emphysema Diagnosed?

To Confirm The Diagnosis Of Emphysema, The Following Tests May Be Conducted:

  • Chest X-ray: This along with a CT scan of the lungs can sometimes help detect abnormalities in the alveoli and confirm the diagnosis of Emphysema.
  • Blood Test: Blood is taken from an artery of the wrist to determine how much oxygenation of the blood is taking place. In case of Emphysema there will be less oxygenation of the blood.
  • Pulmonary Function Test: This test is done to determine how much air can be filled in the lungs at a time and whether the flow of oxygen from the lungs to the blood is normalized or not.

What Are Treatments For Emphysema?

The treatment for Emphysema can be done through medications, therapy, or surgery.

  • Medications: The choice of medication is dependent upon the severity of the disease and symptoms experienced by the individual. Some of the medications generally used are:
  • Bronchodilators: These medications help with coughing and shortness of breath by freeing up the airways but their efficacy is more in treatment of asthma or bronchitis rather than Emphysema.
  • Inhaled Steroids: These can relieve shortness of breath but chronic use may tend to make the bones in the body weak and may increase risk for hypertension and diabetes.
  • Antibiotics: These are used in instances of a bacterial infection like pneumonia.

Therapies For Treating Emphysema:

  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation: A comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program can be done to learn various breathing exercises to improve shortness of breath.
  • Nutrition Therapy: Proper nutrition is also important for people with Emphysema as in the early stages affected individual may need to lose weight whereas in the advanced stages the same individual may be in need of gaining weight.
  • Supplemental Oxygen: Since people with Emphysema have low oxygenation of the blood; therefore, oxygen received by the organs of the body is less which may lead to the organ not functioning normally. Thus, supplemental oxygen may have to be used to increase oxygenation.

Surgical Treatment For Emphysema Are:

  • Lung Volume Reduction Surgery: This is a procedure in which a part of the damaged lung tissue is removed thus providing space for the lung to expand and work in a more normalized fashion and improve breathing quality.
  • Lung Transplant: This is potentially a last resort and is used as an option only when other measures of treatment have failed.

Home Remedies For Emphysema

  • Smoking Cessation:This is the first and foremost measure that one can take to avoid Emphysema.
  • Avoid Respiratory Irritants: People need to stay away from pollutants like dust, fumes from paints, and fumes coming out of automobiles etc. Change filters of furnace and air conditioners regularly.
  • Exercise Regularly: Exercising is the best possible way to stay away from any disease condition including Emphysema.
  • Prevent Respiratory Infections: People need to be aware to get vaccinated as and when advised by their physicians.

How Can Chronic Emphysema Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent Emphysema is to stop smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke, and take adequate safety measures when around chemical fumes.

What Are Some Of The Latest Developments In The Treatment Of Emphysema?

Researchers have found that there is a vitamin present in milk and eggs which has the potential to reverse the damage caused to the lungs by Emphysema. Scientists have found that Retinoic Acid, which is a derivative of vitamin A, and is found in milk and eggs, has the tendency to reverse the damage caused to the lungs. Test conducted on mice has given positive results where the lungs of the mice became completely normal. At present, trials are ongoing to check its success rate in humans.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: June 11, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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