Emphysema is a condition of the lungs in which the air sacs become damaged. This lung condition develops as a consequence of years of smoking and causes shortness of breath.
Read on to understand all about emphysema – its types, causes, symptoms, treatment and more.
There are four main types of emphysema:
- Centriacinar emphysema: This type is very common and affects the middle of the pulmonary lobule (the area surrounding the first respiratory and terminal bronchiole).
- Pan lobular emphysema: This type can affect the whole lung or only the lower lobes and all of the alveoli within them.
- Para septal emphysema: In this type, cystic spaces (blebs) develop in one layer underneath the pleural space.
- Para cicatricial emphysema: This is an irregular emphysema that affects the lung tissue. It is found around areas affected by fibrosis.
It’s essential to have a base knowledge of the types to understand the condition better.
Emphysema is part of the group of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). As a result, the patient can experience the following persistent symptoms gradually.
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent cough
- Persistent mucus production
- A squeaky sound while inhaling
- Tightness in the chest
Individuals experiencing symptoms should reach out to a doctor at the earliest to get diagnosed.
Smoking is the primary cause of emphysema besides inhalation of air pollutants, marijuana smoke, chemical fumes, and genetic deficiency of a protein known as Alpha-1 antitrypsin.
With continued smoking or inhalation of smoke, the inner walls of the air sacs become weak and eventually rupture. Due to this, large air spaces form and decrease the lungs’ surface area along with the amount of oxygen inhaled.
Now, because of the damaged air sacs, when exhaling, the old air gets stuck and doesn’t leave much space for the entrance of fresh oxygenated air.
Now, how do doctors diagnose the condition? We discuss methods of Emphysema diagnosis in the next section.
Since it is difficult to diagnose emphysema only based on the symptoms experienced, doctors also conduct several tests, such as the ones mentioned below:
- Chest X-ray: This helps in the diagnosis of moderate or severe-level emphysema. The chest X-ray results are compared with readings of healthy chest X-rays.
- Pulse oximetry: In this test, the patient places a finger in the device known as a pulse oximeter to determine the oxygen level in the blood.
- Arterial blood gas: From an artery, this test determines the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen present in the blood. It also helps to determine if the patient needs more oxygen from an external source.
- ECG (Electrocardiogram): This test checks if the heart is working properly or not. ECG also helps to cross out cardiovascular disease as the reason behind the symptoms.
- Spirometry or PFT (pulmonary function test): In this test, the patient should take a deep breath before blowing in a test tube attached to a machine. This test measures the airflow during inhalation or exhalation and helps to determine if there is a blockage in the airways.
Once a patient is diagnosed with the condition, they need to undergo Emphysema treatment. We look at the treatment options available in the following section.
The treatment will not cure the condition completely. Instead, it helps to slow down the progression of the damage to the air sacs and lungs.
Some of the treatments for emphysema include:
- Bronchodilators: These medicines help to relax constricted airways and relieve breathing problems like coughing, shortness of breath, etc.
- Corticosteroids: When these are inhaled through sprays, they help reduce inflammation and suffocation.
- Nutrition therapy: Many times, people who are overweight and suffer from early-stage emphysema need to lose weight. And this is where nutrition therapy comes into play. Through nutrition therapy, the patient becomes more knowledgeable about nutritional foods and the diet that needs to be followed to lose weight.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: With the help of pulmonary rehab, the patient learns techniques and exercises that will aid in reducing breathlessness.
- Supplemental oxygen: In case the patient suffers from severe emphysema, they will require a regular oxygen supply daily. They will be administered supplemental oxygen through narrow tubing in the nostrils.
- Lung Volume Reduction Surgery: In this surgery, the surgeons remove the parts of damaged lung tissue. This leaves space for the remaining lung tissue, thus, helping it expand and work effectively toward improving breathing.
- Lung Transplant: In case the other methods don’t work and the air sacs in the lungs are severely damaged, a lung transplant surgery is performed to renew the quality of breathing and lung function.
One can prevent or considerably reduce the risk of emphysema by doing the following:
- Quit smoking
- Try to avoid exposure to respiratory irritants
- Shield from cold air
- Exercise regularly
- Get vaccinated from time-to-time
Emphysema is a chronic condition of the lungs in which your air sacs become so damaged that you experience shortness of breath besides symptoms like chronic coughing, mucus production, etc.
If you continue to experience the symptoms for a long time, you should immediately reach out to an experienced pulmonologist.
Our pulmonologists at the CK Birla Hospital, understand that emphysema can feel suffocating and draining, both physically and mentally. Thus, they diagnose and treat your lung condition compassionately, using cutting-edge equipments and applying latest medical techniques. For personalised emphysema treatment, visit the CK Birla Hospital near you or book an appointment with Dr Kuldeep Grover.