Emphysema is a type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), also known as Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease (COAD). It is often caused by exposure to toxic chemicals or smoking. Emphysema is a progressive lung disease caused by damage to the airways in the lungs called bronchioles. This damage is irreversible and makes the bronchioles and causes a decrease in respiratory function.
Stages of emphysema
There are four stages of emphysema.
Stage 0: At risk – normal lung function.
Stage 1: Mild emphysema – mild reduction of lung function.
Stage 2: Moderate emphysema – 50-80% lung function.
Stage 3: Severe emphysema. – 30-50% lung function.
Stage 4: Very severe emphysema (end stage) – less than 30% lung function.
Emphysema symptoms and signs
- Shortness of breath can be an early symptom
- Reduced tolerance for physical activity
- Mild chronic cough, sputum and wheezing
- Barrel chest (the chest is increased in size from front to back).
- Weight loss
Emphysema develops gradually over many years, therefore you may not notice any symptoms before your lungs have already been irreversibly damaged.
Treatment of emphysema
The damage done to the lungs can not be reversed, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms. If you are a smoker, the number one advice is to quit smoking to slow down the loss of lung function.
Medication - Broncholiators are medications that are inhaled to help reduce shortness of breath, wheezing and cough. Corticosteroids can be innhaled or taken as pills to reduce inflammation in the lungs.
Oxygen therapy - Oxygen therapy is given through a nasal cannula. For emphysema patients with blood oxygen levels lower than normal, oxygen therapy have proven to be effective in increasing life expectancy.
Antibiotics - Used to treat respiratory infections which can be life threatening if left untreated.
Pulmonary rehabilitation - This is a new form of treatment for emphysema that can increase energy and reduce breathlessness through an individual exercise program. Pulmonary rehabilitation is effective in slowing down the loss of lung function.
Lung reduction surgery – Parts of the damaged lung is removed to remove the function of the remaining lung.
Lung transplant – Lung transplant is the only known cure for emphysema and is usually only considered when life expectancy is assumed to be less than 2-3 years.
Alternative treatments – There are a number of different alternative treatment methods described on the internet. Some of them can be found here.
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People with a mild emphysema have a normal life expectancy if they quit smoking. If treatment instructions and good health habits are followed those diagnosed with emphysema can live close to normal for a long time. Even those with severe emphysema have a survival expectancy of five years or more. Smoking increases the severity of the disease and can reduce the life expectancy by 10 years or more.