Pulmonary emphysema is a disorder where one has difficulty blowing all the air out of the lungs during breathing. The disorder affects small air passages and eventually destroys elasticity in the airways. This leads to hyperinflated lungs which do not work properly. As the condition progresses, the number of air sacs decreases and one is not able to oxygenate the blood. The typical signs of emphysema include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, inability to perform the exercise, dry cough, loss of appetite and fatigue.
Emphysema and its risk factors
The risk factors for an emphysema lung include smoking, old age, exposure to second-hand smoke, occupational exposure to fumes and dust, breathing indoor fumes, HIV infection and certain medical disorders like Marfan syndrome. The diagnosis of an emphysema lung is not difficult. One needs to undergo lung function tests, a chest x-rays and a CT scan.
Consumers should understand that the available emphysema treatment does not cure the disorder. All present-day health treatments can help reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the condition. To begin with, all individuals who smoke must discontinue this habit. This is the only way to reduce damage to the lungs. It is well understood that discontinuing smoking is difficult but there are smoking aids available (eg, Zyban, Nicoderm, Chantix).
One emphysema treatment that does help to relieve symptoms is using bronchodilators. These drugs that can help relieve a cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and improve exercise tolerance. Sometimes inhaled corticosteroids are used when there is an exacerbation of the condition. Because gastroesophageal reflux can worsen emphysema, most individuals also need to take protein pump inhibitors and lose weight. Supplemental oxygen is a very useful therapy. Portable home oxygen devices are now available which are safe to use. A key aspect of treating emphysema is rehabilitation. This involves education, exercise training, and behavior modification – changes which can help improve the quality of life and exercise tolerance.
When the condition gets worse and an infection is suspected, patients are started on antibiotics. All individual who has emphysema should get annual vaccinations against the common cold virus. The role of surgery is limited to diffused emphysema. Individuals who have localized disease may be candidates for surgery but the results are, at best, mediocre. Moreover, surgery is associated with a number of life-threatening complications. The last option is a lung transplant, but the biggest impediments to the procedure are lack of availability of donors and high cost.
Some measures that may help improve symptoms of emphysema include breathing exercises to help get rid of excess air in the lung and improve elasticity. While these exercises do not cure pulmonary emphysema, at least they can help ease shortness of breath in this type of patients.