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Learn About Emphysema

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) that involves damage to the air sacs, called alveoli, in the lungs that cannot be repaired. Approximately 3.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with emphysema.

For people with emphysema, the air can become trapped in the damaged lung tissue when breathing, and the lungs get bigger and less delicately shaped, allowing less air to pass through. As a result, your body is unable to get the oxygen that it needs to function normally and you may have a cough or feel out of breath, particularly during physical activity.

The damage to the lungs is usually caused by cigarette smoke over many years and quitting smoking can help to stop the condition from getting worse. People who smoke are six times more likely to suffer from emphysema than non-smokers.


The symptoms of emphysema may not be noticeable in the early stages of the condition and tend to gradually get worse over time.

Shortness of breath is the most common complaint, which often gets worse during physical activity. Many people begin to avoid strenuous activities as the symptoms get worse and it can become problematic when shortness of breath interferes with everyday tasks and activities. Eventually, shortness of breath can also be present at rest.

Other symptoms of emphysema may include a cough, wheezing and frequent chest infections.


When the symptoms progress to have an impact on your daily life and it is difficult to complete simple activities such as climbing stairs, you should see a medical professional to investigate the symptoms.

There are several tests that can help in the diagnosis of emphysema. After your doctor has discussed your symptoms and risk factors, such as a history of smoking, diagnostic tests may include:

Imaging tests: X-ray and computerized tomography (CT) scans to view the structure of the lung tissue
Blood tests: measurement of the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood to determine the extent of oxygen transfer in the lungs.
Lung function tests: spirometry to assess the function of your lungs and breathing


There is no cure for emphysema and the damage to the lung tissue cannot be reversed, but it is possible to prevent the condition from getting worse and to improve symptoms.

Initially, the treatment of emphysema should address the cause of the condition. For example, quitting smoking should be a priority if you smoke to prevent further damage to the lungs.

Additionally, there are medications that can help to reduce shortness of breath and allow you to carry out your daily activities as normal. Bronchodilator and steroid medications can be administered in an inhaler device so that the medication is directly specifically to the airways. It’s important that you understand how to use an inhaler correctly in order to benefit from the medication. If you need help with this, we can demonstrate how to use an inhaler in the clinic.

You may also need other treatment. Antibiotics can help to fight off a bacterial infection of the respiratory system and some people also need oxygen to help with breathing when the symptoms are more severe.

What else can you do?

If you have emphysema, there are a few things that you can do to help reduce the severity of the condition such as:

  • Quit smoking (if you smoke)
  • Avoid irritants such as chemical fumes and air pollution
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a nutritious diet

If you make an effort to do these things, you can help to prevent further damage to your lungs so that you can get the oxygen you need to stay healthy partake in the activities of your day-to-day life.

Want to know more?

If you think that you may have symptoms of emphysema, it is important that you talk to medical professional as soon as possible. At Central Arkansas Lung, we will be happy to give you personalized and professional advice about treatment options and how you can live well with emphysema.

Simply call us if you’d like more information or to organize an appointment to discuss your symptoms.

Further Reading