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Emphysema: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About emphysema

Emphysema is an obstructive lung disease characterised by the decreased ability of lungs to expel out air. This results from irreversible damage to the air sacs of the lungs which cause them to become inelastic. Emphysema usually co-exists with another respiratory disease called chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema: Incidence, age and sex

Emphysema is commonly encountered in the general population, especially in individuals who smoke and live in industrial areas. Although it can afflict a person of any age group, it is mainly observed in middle-aged to older adults. It is more frequently seen in men as compared with women. However, the incidence of emphysema in women is on the rise due to increase in number of women smokers.

Signs and symptoms of emphysema: Diagnosis

Emphysema is a slowly progressive disease, wherein the symptoms may appear only after almost half of the lung tissue is damaged. It is characterised by persistent cough coupled with shortness of breath and chest tightness. Some individuals may also complain of mild chest pain, fever and exhaustion. These symptoms may deteriorate as time passes.

The respiratory physician on examination may notice abnormal lung. Investigations like lung function tests, especially spirometry helps in assessment of a person’s ability to exhale out air. Other tests like chest x-ray, CT scan of chest and blood tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of emphysema

The chief factor contributing to emphysema is smoking wherein both passive and active smoking plays an important role in causation. Other factors include dust, constant exposure to vehicular pollution and industrial fumes. It can also result from deficiency of enzyme alpha-1 anti-trypsin in some individuals. It causes damage to walls of small air sacs, also called alveoli which cause them to lose their elasticity. This leads to inefficient expulsion of air from them, leading to a lung problem called emphysema.

Emphysema: Complications

Emphysema may get serious if the lungs get affected with bacterial infections. Moreover, it may occasionally result in heart failure which may be potentially fatal.

Emphysema: Treatment

Emphysema is a treatable disease but unfortunately it cannot be cured. Symptomatic relief may be provided by medications like bronchodilators which may help to expand the constricted air passages. These bronchodilator drugs are inhaled preparations which need to be taken by inhalers. They also provide immediate relief from chest tightness and also improve breathing. In occasional cases, oral or inhaled steroids can be used as a last resort in alleviating the symptoms. Antibiotics are advised when bacterial infection of lung occurs. Sometimes, the affected individual may require oxygen support in progressive form of disease. Measures like avoidance of sudden temperature changes and industrial pollution, smoking cessation and breathing exercises may help keep the disease under control.