Emphysema is a lung disorder that causes shortness of breath, as the air sacs in the alveoli of the lung are damaged. As the condition progresses, the air sacs weaken and rupture making air spaces to extend which lowers to the surface of the lungs, further decreasing the amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream. When exhaling damaged alveoli does not function well, and old air gets confined leaving no space for fresh air to enter. People suffering from emphysema may also have chronic bronchitis which results in continuous cough due to inflammation of the bronchial tubes.

emphysema in lungs

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis results in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Smoking increases the risk of developing emphysema and people with Alpha 1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency may also develop emphysema, as AAT is a protein responsible for preventing white blood cells from damaging the lungs and tissues. Second-hand smoking and harmful air pollutants like chemical fumes and dust may also cause emphysema. Also Read: Awareness On COPD Is Important For Lung Health


Emphysema symptoms and signs are not visible for many years as it develops slowly. Difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath are the two major symptoms that gradually start.

  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing upon exertion and at rest
  • If you develop unexplained shortness of breath for several months and disturb the normal activities seek immediate medical help if:
  • Shortness of breath while climbing stairs
  • Lip or nails turn blue with exertion
  • Mentally not attentive

Diagnosis And Treatment

The doctors generally do a complete physical assessment and a thorough medical history to diagnose emphysema. They also recommend certain tests including chest X-ray, CT scan, lung function test, and spirometry to further help the diagnosis of the condition.

Emphysema cannot be completely cured but treatment aims at relieving the symptoms and slows down the progression of the condition. Doctors may recommend bronchodilators to ease coughing, breathlessness and other breathing issues by relaxing narrowed airways, steroid inhalers to lessen inflammation and improve breathing patterns and appropriate antibiotics are given to treat bacterial infections like pneumonia and bronchitis.

In severe cases of emphysema, doctors may also recommend surgery depending upon the severity of the symptoms which include lung volume reduction surgery that expands the lungs and removes the obstructing damaged tissues. Lung transplant is the last option in case you have severe lung damage and other treatment options have failed.

Certain rehabilitation method can help to avert worsening of the disease which includes:

Breathing exercises and techniques to lessen shortness of breath and improve the ability to workout. Also Read: Breathing Exercises To Improve Lung Capacity

To practice healthy eating habits and to choose a well-balanced diet to maintain weight.

If you experience severe emphysema with low blood oxygen level, then using oxygen support regularly at home may provide instant relief.