Emphysema is a condition which reduces the flow of air while exhaling. It affects the air sacs in the lungs (bronchioles) and causes damage to them. The main cause of emphysema is smoking or secondhand smoking. In rare cases, the cause can be a specific protein deficiency which is hereditary.
The symptoms of emphysema may include the shortness of breath, coughing, loss of appetite and weight, fatigue, decreased ability to perform physical activities, breathlessness and tension in the chest. At the beginning of the disease the symptoms are usually mild but in time they tend to worsen. You should see your doctor if you get tired very quickly, if your breathing difficulties are severe, if your nails turn gray or blue due to the lack of oxygen in the blood, if you lost weight without a diet of if cough up green or yellow mucus.
Besides smoking and hereditary factor, causes of emphysema may be drug abuse, weakened immune system, exposure to fumes from some chemicals, dust, air pollution, indoors pollution and connective tissue diseases.
The most common diagnostic procedures in detecting emphysema are spirometry and pulmonary function tests. Other procedures may include analysis of arterial blood gases, oximetry, X-ray imaging, CT scan and mucus analysis.
The first step in treating emphysema is to stop smoking. There are many medications which your doctor may prescribe. The choice of medications depends on the severity of your symptoms. The treatment may include inhaled steroids, bronchodilators, supplemental oxygen to help you with coughing and breathing difficulties. The most important part of the treatment is pulmonary rehabilitation program. This program involves exercises and instructions how to lead a healthy life. Antibiotics will be prescribed if you develop pneumonia or bronchitis. In some cases a lung surgery will be necessary. Damaged tissue is removed so the function of the lungs can be restored. In the most severe cases lung transplantation is required.
The patients with emphysema or some other lung disease should do breathing exercises. Such exercises may include diaphragmatic breathing exercise, pursed-lip breathing exercise and deep-breathing exercise. All these exercises can be very useful in order to improve the control of exhaling by utilizing the abdominal muscles. It is recommended to do the exercises around three times a day.