What is Emphysema?
Emphysema is a lung disease wherein the alveoli’s function is impaired or destroyed. The alveoli are involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the lungs, and if their function is impeded, the process of exhalation will be impaired and slowed. Emphysema is one of many pulmonary diseases called COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In emphysema, the bronchioles and alveoli are affected. When these structures are affected, the air that a person breathes in won’t be able to exchange with the air inside the lungs. This causes over-inflation of the alveoli and result to difficulty in exhalation.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor associated with developing emphysema. Some people will have emphysema due to genetic predisposition, especially those who have deficiency in a chemical called alpha 1 – antitrypsin. This chemical is said to be important in protecting the lungs from damage by certain substances like proteases. Other risk factors are old age, pollution from the air, and heredity.
Patients with emphysema will experience shortness of breath because of the impeded gas exchange in the alveoli. Some will have coughs and wheezing. And since emphysema is a progressive disease, one may be able to exercise normally in the early stages. But a decrease in exercise tolerance will be noticed as the disease slowly progresses.
Treatment will actually depend on the symptoms presented by patients. But for smokers, they are advised to stop smoking and stop further damage to the lung tissues. Others will be given bronchodilators to aid in the passage of air to and from the lungs. Some will be given steroids to combat the overall inflammation in the body. Antibiotics are also given to aid those with difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath. In the latter stages of the disease, those with emphysema require the need for supplemental oxygen.