What should I know about emphysema?

Emphysema is a lung condition caused by cigarette smoking or prolonged exposure to dust or industrial pollutants. It is important to note that emphysema along with chronic bronchitis are part of a common lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Even though the impaired airways could no longer regenerate and there is no available cure, emphysema can be prevented and treated.

What are the indications of emphysema?

  • Shortness of breath during exertion and over time while at rest as the condition progresses.
  • Fatigue

    Shortness of breath during exertion and over time while at rest as the condition progresses.

  • Increased susceptibility to chest infections
  • Cough and increased production of phlegm
  • Barrel-shaped chest
  • Cyanosis or bluish-tinged skin due to the lack of oxygen

What are the possible complications?

  • Pneumonia – this is an infection involving the bronchioles and alveoli.
  • Heart issues – if the alveoli are damaged along with the reduced number of capillaries and lower oxygen level in the bloodstream, the heart should strain to move blood through the lungs.
  • Collapsed lungs – some lungs might end up with large-sized air pockets that might rupture which results to deflation of the lung

How is it diagnosed

The condition is diagnosed with a lung function test called spirometry. The other tests that are used to come up with a diagnosis include the following:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scans
  • Other lung function or breathing tests


Remember that there is no available cure for emphysema, but it can be treated. Proper management can help minimize the symptoms, improve the quality of life and reduce the need for hospitalization.

In most cases, the management involves the following:

  • Cessation of smoking and avoidance of other air pollutants
  • Pulmonary or respiratory rehabilitation
  • Oxygen treatment in advanced cases
  • Anti-inflammatory medications, bronchodilators and even antibiotics
  • Stress management measures
  • Regular, gentle exercises to improve overall fitness
  • Flu and pneumococcal vaccination for protection against certain forms of respiratory infections.