Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that affects the alveoli. The alveoli are tiny air sacs which are present in the lungs in thousands of numbers. When we breathe, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place in these sacs. The size of these sacs increase due to emphysema. As a result, its surrounding tissues lose its natural elastic properties, and therefore it cannot expand and shrink normally during breathing. This makes it difficult for the patients to exhale completely, and therefore carbon dioxide buildup takes place in the body.
Following are some important facts related to this lung disease:
- Emphysema belongs to a group of diseases known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is mostly accompanied by chronic bronchitis.
- There are four stages of this disease. They are: at-risk, mild, moderate, and severe.
- As the affected alveoli get enlarged, their numbers in the lungs decrease.
- This disease is most commonly found in people who are heavy smokers. Cigarette smoke damages the lung tissue and blocks the normal air flow through the lungs. It also irritates the air passage leading to further obstruction.
- More number of men get affected by this disease compared to women. This is simply because the smoking population of men is much higher than women.
- Apart from smoking, other risk factors of this disease include prolonged exposure to pollution, toxic chemicals, and other such irritants. Severe infection of the lungs, certain enzymes, aging, and heredity are the other factors responsible for this kind of damage in the lung tissue.
There are few symptoms that are usually subtle in nature and cannot be identified easily, whereas there are others that help you recognize this condition at the earliest.
Shortness of breath is the most common symptom that is observed. Unlike other respiratory conditions, in emphysema, the breathing problem arises during exhalation rather than inhalation. In the initial stage, it happens while doing some physical activity, but as the disease progresses, it can be experienced even when the patient is at rest. Also, patients may often breathe rapidly. The medical term for rapid breathing is tachypnea.
In normal conditions, the rate of respiration of an adult person varies between 12-20, but in people with emphysema, it goes much beyond that. A chronic, persistent cough that refuses to go over a long period of time is another symptom that is noticed. It may or may not be accompanied by sputum. Like any other COPD problem, here too, there is a possibility of excess mucus production.
Blue skin or cyanosis is a temporary symptom found in these patients. It is noticed particularly after some physically strenuous activity, and it disappears once the patient takes some rest. This happens because of improper supply of oxygen to various parts of the body. Barrel chest is a condition where the chest gets expanded and appears round like a barrel.
This symptom is mostly observed in the advanced stages of this condition. This happens when a large amount of air gets trapped inside the air sacs and does not come out due to which the patient struggles to exhale. Due to the breathing difficulty, normal activities like eating becomes a tough task. Eventually, the patient loses appetite, which in turn leads to severe weight loss. Apart from the breathing-related problems, nail clubbing may likely occur.
The treatment of this lung disease is based upon its stage. It is determined with the help of a special test known as spirometry. There is no cure for this disease; however, efforts can be made to alleviate the symptoms. Bronchodilator medicines are available as oral medicines and sprays which are used to open up the air passage. For stronger action, steroid sprays are administered. Antibiotics are used to fight any possible lung infections. Regular vaccination is essential to keep the respiratory infections at bay. In some cases, surgical options have to be availed to alter the lung volume.
It is important to prevent emphysema since its symptoms may become serious. If you are a smoker, you must stop smoking immediately. Passive smoking should also be avoided. Also, always wear a mask to avoid the effects of air pollution.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.