What is it?

WebMD states that emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that damages the little air sacs (alveoli) found in our lungs. When these air sacs are damaged, it causes them to expand and they can no longer be able to move as much oxygen into the blood as they once had.


The most significant cause of emphysema is smoking. Second-hand smoke, air pollutants, chemicals and toxins, genetic mutations and old-age can also cause emphysema but at a significantly lower level than smoking.

Emphysema takes a long time to appear. Around 95% of sufferers are over the age of 45.

When talking about genetic mutations causing emphysema, we are talking about a deficiency in alpha 1-antitrypsin (A1AD). A protein binds itself to the antitrypsin which hinders it from doing its job, that is from keeping the blood protease from eating away at the fine tissue in the lung. This in effect causes emphysema.

Emphysema caused by old age is simply the body slowly deteriorating. Part of the deterioration occurs in the lungs where the fine tissues begins to dissolve and emphysema can appear. This generally happens quite late in life.



The main sign of emphysema is dyspnea (the medical term for troubled breathing). At first, sufferers will experience troubled breathing during and after physically exerting themselves through exercise or hard work. As their emphysema gets worse, they may begin to have troubled breathing after minimal amounts of physical exertion, like going for a walk, or climbing a set of stairs. If it gets really bad, simply sitting could cause troubled breathing, where the individual has to sit with their arms up leaning on something in order to help catch their breath.

Another symptoms of emphysema is the expansion of your chest, or barrel chestedness. This generally occurs when the emphysema has gotten quite bad and any breathing is labored. People with emphysema have a high level of carbon dioxide in their blood, as they are not able to get enough oxygen. This can cause their skin to turn blue or purple.


Pulmonary function testing is the most popular way of testing for emphysema. Two of the most popular tests, that fall under pulmonary function testing, are body plethysmography and spirometry. A plethysmograph is an instrument that measure the change of volume in an organ found in the body. It can measure blood and air. In the case of emphysema it is obviously measuring the volume of air in the lungs.

Spirometry is probably the most popular of the two pulmonary function testings, as it not only measures the change of volume (as the plethysmograph does), but also measures the flow of oxygen in the lungs. The spirometry is used only on the lungs.

WebMD says that emphysema is broken down into stages and that there are multiple stage systems such as: the BODE system, and the GOLD system.



There is no treatment for emphysema, per se, as it is irreversible. The best thing a person can do, if they think they have it, is to stop smoking. Avoiding other lung irritants is also recommended. Supplemental oxygen is a popular method of treating emphysema. It has been shown to help prolong the lives of those suffering from emphysema. There are also types of therapy, medication, and surgery that can help a person suffering from emphysema.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a therapy that can help the sufferer increase their quality of life as well as teach them how to take care of themselves. Popular drugs used for emphysema are bronchodilators, anticholinergics, and steroid medication. Lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplants are the two types of surgeries used for emphysema. With lung volume reduction, not everyone is able to go through with this surgery. In some cases, lung reduction surgery has been known to lead to the collapse of the lung. Lung transplant, if successful, can cure a patient of their emphysema.