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Emphysema symptoms can be subtle at first but tend to worsen over time.


Emphysema is characterized by damage to the air sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli. Over time, these structures weaken and rupture, creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones. 

This reduces the surface area of the lungs and makes it harder for oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Most people with emphysema also experience chronic bronchitis, further aggravating airway obstruction.

What are the symptoms of emphysema?

Emphysema symptoms can be subtle at first but tend to worsen over time. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent cough or wheezing sounds when breathing.

  • Cough accompanied by excess mucus.

  • Difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity.

  • Whistling sounds when inhaling or exhaling.

  • A feeling of tightness in the chest.

What causes emphysema?

The leading cause of emphysema is prolonged exposure to airborne irritants, including:

  • Tobacco

  • Marijuana

  • Air pollution

  • Chemical vapors and dust

Exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and inhaled chemicals can also contribute to developing this disease. In rare cases, genetic factors such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may also play a role.

Who is at risk of emphysema?

Smokers have a substantially higher risk of developing emphysema, but those exposed to other lung irritants over the long term are also at risk. Age and genetic factors, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, can also increase the risk of developing the disease. Risk factors include:

  • Smoking

  • Age between 40 and 60 years

  • Exposure to secondhand smoke

  • Occupational exposure to gases or dust

  • Exposure to indoor and outdoor environmental pollution

Treatment for emphysema

There is no definitive cure for emphysema, but treatment can manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve the ability to maintain an active life.

Treatments can also be used to prevent or manage associated complications. These options include:

Lifestyle changes

  • Quitting smoking is crucial for treating emphysema.

  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke and other lung irritants.

  • Consult a healthcare professional for a nutritional plan and recommended amount of physical activity. Exercise can strengthen respiratory muscles and improve overall well-being.


  • Bronchodilators: Help relax the muscles around the airways to facilitate breathing. Most are administered via inhalers. In more severe cases, they may include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

  • Flu and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines are significant due to the higher risk of complications in people with emphysema.

  • Antibiotics in case of bacterial or viral lung infections.

Oxygen therapy

  • Used in severe cases with low blood oxygen levels to improve breathing.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

  • A program includes exercises, disease management education, nutritional counseling, and psychological support to improve the well-being of people with chronic respiratory problems.


  • Reserved as a last resort for severe cases that do not respond to other treatments. It may involve removing damaged lung tissue and correcting large blisters that may obstruct breathing. In extreme cases, a lung transplant may be an option.

It is essential to be aware of the symptoms and seek proper medical help from a Pulmonologist, especially if breathing is difficult or severe. If symptoms worsen or signs of infection, such as fever, occur, visit the Emergency Room. Do not hesitate to contact BlueNetHospitals, where our team is ready to provide the care and support necessary to improve your quality of life.


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