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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.
Emphysema causes damage to these linings and eventually the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture — creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream. 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. Recognizing the symptoms of emphysema is important because diagnosing it in its early stages allows for a wider range of treatment options.
Emphysema progresses in stages, so it is important to learn the symptoms in order to know when to get help. Identifying the symptoms of emphysema in its earlier stages will help your physician develop a more effective treatment plan.
What are the symptoms of emphysema?
The symptoms of emphysema to be on the lookout for include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Bluish hue to the lips or fingernail beds
If you notice one or more of these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance.
How is emphysema diagnosed?
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?
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 suggested treatment approach 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.
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?
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.
We’re Here To Help
Would you like to speak with a Patient Care Specialist at Centers for Respiratory Health 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.