Emphysema is marked by the irreversible destruction of alveoli. Damage to these fragile air sacs causes exchange difficulty between oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
Rarely, emphysema is caused by a low level of alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) protein. AAt deficiency is hereditary.
Additional risk factors for emphasema’s cause include:
Your initial symptom is feeling activity induced shortness of breath beyond the norm. As your emphysema progresses, even a short walk can leave you breathless. Some experience chronic bronchitis before their emphysema develops.
Other symptoms of emphysema may involve:
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- mild chronic cough
- prolonged exhalation
- reduced exercise capability
Emphysema treatments focus on relieving shortness of breath symptoms and preventing complications. Ranging from oxygen therapy all the way up to lung surgery.
Available treatments are:
- oxygen therapy ~ relieves low blood oxygen levels
- vaccines ~ annual flu shot & pneumonia shot every 5 years
- bronchodilators ~ open constricted airways, used to treat asthma
- antibiotics ~ treat bronchitis, pneumonia, influenza bacterial infections, which are leading complications of emphysema
- inhaled steroids ~ relieves emphysema symptoms associated with asthma & bronchitis, prolonged use can increase risk of high blood pressure, cataracts, diabetes
- lung volume reduction surgery ~ removes small wedges of damaged lung tissue which frees up space to help the remaining lung tissue & diaphragm work more efficiently
Lung transplantation surgery is an option for severe emphysema after these other “get me more oxygen” treatments have already failed.
Smoking cessation is your most effective treatment of all!