Emphysema: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Emphysema is a type of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD is a group of lung diseases whichmakes breathing difficult thatworsen over time. Most people with COPD have emphysema and chronic bronchitis (another major form of COPD), but the severity of this disease can vary from person to person.
Emphysema affects the air sacs in the lungs. These sacs are usually elastic or stretchy. As you inhale, each air sac fills with air like a small balloon. When you exhale, the air sacs deflate and air is released.
In emphysema, the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. As a result, the air sacloses its shape and becomes less flexible. This makes it difficult for the lungs to perform oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange .
What causes Emphysema?
The cause of emphysema is usually long-term exposure to irritants that damage the lungs and airway passage. Cigarette smoke is one of the major causes of it. Pipes, cigars, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause emphysema, especially if you inhale it.
Exposure to other inhalation irritants can cause emphysema. This includes passive smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes or dust from the workplaces.
Risk Factors of Emphysema
Risk factors of Emphysema include-
Smoking-This is a major risk factor. Up to 75% of patients with emphysema had a habitto smoke.
Exposure-Long-term exposure to other lung irritants such as smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes.
Age-People of age group 40 years or more, are likely to develop emphysema due to degenerative changes in lung and the tissues within. .
Genetics-These include alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is a genetic condition. In addition, smokers who develop emphysema are more likely to develop it, if they have a family history of COPD.
Symptoms of Emphysema
Symptoms and signs of emphysema may not appear for years because it develops gradually. Shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing are the two main symptoms that start gradually. The other symptoms include-
- Continuous cough.
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
- Chest tightness.
- Increased production of mucus.
How is Emphysema diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose emphysema through tests including-
Chest examination/Stethoscope examination-A simple test in which the doctor places the steth on your chest as well as upper back to listen to the hollow sound with a stethoscope. This can mean that air is trapped in your lungs.
Pulse oximetry examination-It is used to measure the level of oxygen in the blood and is often done by attaching the monitor to a finger, forehead or earlobe.
Spirometry test- This isone of the most useful tests that evaluates lung function by taking deep breaths and then blowing it into a tube connected to a device that measures airflow.
X-rays- Although x-rays are usually not helpful in detecting the early stages of emphysema, a plain chest X-ray or a CAT (computed tomography) scan can help diagnose moderate or severe cases.
Electrocardiogram (ECG)-An ECG checks the function of the heart and is used to determine if a heart condition is causing shortness of breath.
Arterial blood gas-This is often done when emphysema gets worse, it measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the arterial blood. This can be used to determine whether you need supplemental oxygen or retain carbon dioxide.
Prevention for Emphysema
Eating a healthy diet-Your body uses food to fuel all of its activities, and that includes breathing. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about dietary changes that can help relieve emphysema symptoms.
Increase water intake- A person with COPD should drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water a day. This way, mucus doesn't thicken up and stick to the lungs. Thus, makes it easier for you to breathe.
Maintain your ideal body weight-Being overweight makes breathing more difficult and can make you feel weak or tired and also increases the risk of chest infections.
Avoid lung irritants-Smoking isn't the only thing that worsens emphysema. Avoid exposure to exhaust fumes, strong perfumes, detergents, paints and varnishes, excessive dust and other contaminants also.
Exercise-Regular exercise can reduce the risk of shortness of breath by increasing the body's use of oxygen and strengthening the respiratory muscles.
Vaccination-Take vaccination to prevent chest infections which can be dangerous, even life threatening for people with COPD.
Treatment for Emphysema
There is no cure for COPD, but avoiding causative factors and medication can relieve symptoms and slow down the disease progression. Treatment includes-
Bronchodilators- These drugs relax the muscles around the airways and are given through an inhaler and sometimes through a machine called a nebulizer through which there is an easy passage of air from nose towards the lungs.
Anti-inflammatory drugs-These drugs reduceinflammation in the airways.
Oxygen therapy-It is prescribed for patients whose lungs do not receive enough oxygen to the blood (hypoxemia).
Lung volume reduction surgery-This can help relieve pressure on the respiratory muscles and improve lung elasticity and gas exchange.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation-A pulmonary rehabilitation program is a personal care program that includes exercises, breathing, and nutrition tips according to the COPD. The purpose of this program is to help you stay active and carry out your daily activities without any difficulty.
Home Remedies for Emphysema
Garlic has antibiotic, antiviral and antibacterial properties which helps to clear the mucusof the airway canal, thereby helpingto relieve emphysema.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties which helps to break down mucus by making it easier for your body to expel air. It also helps improve blood circulation in the lungs and reduce inflammation.
The curcumin found in turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It helps fight oxidative stress and reduces airway inflammation.
Eucalyptus oil can help in opening up the airways canal and treat inflammation in COPD. It helps improve breathing and reduces the symptoms of emphysema.
When to see a doctor?
Anyone who experiencesany sign or symptom of COPD, should see a doctor as soon as possible.