Overview

Emphysema can be described as a lung disease that causes breathlessness because the air sacs inside the lung (alveoli) suffer from damage for people suffering from emphysema. In time, the internal membranes of these sacs become weaker and tear, creating significant air spaces instead several smaller ones. As a result, it decreases the surface of your lungs and, consequently, the quantity of oxygen reaching the bloodstream.

After exhaling your exhale, the damaged alveoli do not perform as they should, and old air is stuck, leaving no space for oxygen-rich, fresh air to come in.

The majority of people suffering from emphysema suffer from chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis can cause inflammation in the tubes that transport air into your lung (bronchial tubes) and result in an ongoing cough.

Emphysema and chronic lung bronchitis are two of the conditions that form the basis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). However, smoking cigarettes is the primary reason for COPD. Treatment can slow the progress of COPD; however, it isn’t able to reverse the damage.

Signs and symptoms of Emphysema

Emphysema is a condition that can last for a long time without experiencing any symptoms or signs. Emphysema’s most prominent symptom is breathlessness which typically develops slowly.

It is possible to stop doing things that make you exhausted, and the symptoms don’t develop until it becomes a problem with your daily activities. For example, emphysema is a condition that causes breathlessness even when you’re in a relaxed state.

When is the best time to visit a doctor?

Visit your doctor if you notice a sudden loss of breath for a long time, particularly if it’s getting worse or is affecting your routine. Please don’t dismiss the issue by claiming that it’s due to aging or isn’t in good shape. Get medical attention immediately when:

  • You’re so sluggish You can’t even climb the up the stairs
  • Your fingernails or lips change color to gray or blue with effort
  • Your brain isn’t alert.

The Reasons for Emphysema

Emphysema’s primary cause is exposure to airborne irritants. These include:

  • Smoke from tobacco
  • Marijuana smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Dust and chemical fumes

In rare instances, emphysema can be caused by an inheritable protein deficiency that helps protect the elastic structures within the lungs. It’s called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of developing emphysema are:

  • Smoking. Emphysema is most likely to occur in cigarette smokers; however, pipe and cigar smokers are also at risk. The risk for both smokers rises with the quantity and duration of tobacco used.
  • The age. Although the lung damage in emphysema progresses slowly, many patients with emphysema caused by tobacco begin to show signs of the disease around 40 to 60 years old.
  • Smoke exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke, sometimes referred to as environmental or passive tobacco smoke is the smoke you accidentally inhale through a smoker’s pipe or cigar. Inhaling smoke from secondary sources increases the risk of developing emphysema.
  • Exposure to occupational dust or fumes. If you breathe smoke from certain chemicals or dust from grains, cotton, wood, or mining materials, it is more likely that you will develop emphysema. This risk is increased when you smoke.
  • Exposure to pollution from both indoor and outdoor sources. Breathing indoor pollutants like fumes from heating fuel and outdoor pollution like car exhaust, for instance, can increase the chance of contracting emphysema.

Complications

Emphysema sufferers tend to develop.

  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax). A collapsed lung could be life-threatening for people with severe emphysema because their lung function is compromised. It is not common, but it can be extremely serious when it happens.
  • Heart issues. Emphysema can increase the pressure inside the arteries which connect the heart and lung tissue. It can lead to an illness known as cor pulmonale. In this condition, the heart is enlarged and then weakens.
  • Huge holes inside the lung (bullae). Some patients with emphysema have empty lung spaces, known as bullae. They may be as big as half of the lung. Along with limiting the lung space to expand, large bullae could increase the risk of suffering from pneumothorax.

Prevention

Don’t smoke and stay away from breathing secondhand smoke to prevent emphysema from occurring. Wear a respirator to shield your lungs when exposed to chemical fumes or dust.

Diagnosis

To determine if you suffer from emphysema or not, the doctor will inquire about your medical history and conduct an examination. Then, the doctor can recommend various tests.

Imaging tests

A chest X-ray may confirm a diagnosis of advanced emphysema and determine the cause of breathlessness. However, chest X-rays can reveal normal findings if you suffer from emphysema.

Computerized Tomography (CT) scans blend images from X-rays taken in different directions to create sections of organs inside. CT scans can prove helpful in diagnosing and detecting the condition of emphysema. You could also get a CT scan to determine if you’re a good candidate for lung surgery.

Lab tests

The blood drawn from an artery in your wrist is tested to see how well your lungs can transfer oxygen into the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide.

Lung function tests

These non-invasive tests determine the amount of air that your lungs can hold and how well air flows through and out of the lung. They also test the efficiency of your lungs in delivering oxygen to the bloodstream. A commonly used test is using a small device called a spirometer that one blows into.

Treatment

Emphysema and COPD aren’t curable. However, treatment options can reduce symptoms and slow down the condition’s progress.

Medicines

Depending on the degree of your symptoms, your physician may recommend:

  • Bronchodilators. These drugs can aid in relieving coughing, shortness of breath, coughing, and breathing issues by relaxing constricting airways.
  • Steroids inhaled. Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays decrease inflammation and can help ease breath shortness.
  • The antibiotics. Antibiotics are the best choice if you have a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia or acute bronchitis.

Therapy

  • Rehabilitation for the lungs. A pulmonary rehabilitation program can help you learn breathing exercises and methods that could reduce breathing problems and increase your capacity to exercise.
  • The nutrition therapy. You’ll also receive guidance on the proper diet. When you are in the initial stages of emphysema, many people must lose weight, whereas those with advanced emphysema typically need to increase their importance.
  • Oxygen supplementation. If you have severe emphysema and lower blood oxygen levels getting oxygen at home regularly and during your exercise routine could bring some relief. A lot of people utilize oxygen throughout the day. The oxygen is typically administered via small tubes that fit into the nostrils of your nose.

Surgery

In the event of the degree of your emphysema, your doctor might suggest one or more types of surgery, like:

  • The procedure of reducing lung volume. In this procedure, surgeons take small slices that are damaged cells in lung tissues. Removing the damaged tissue can help the lung tissue that remains to grow and function more efficiently. It also assists in improving breathing.
  • Transplantation of the lung. Lung transplantation is an option if you suffer from severe lung damage and the other treatments have not worked.
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