Managing emphysema

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Emphysema is a condition of the lung that results to shortness of breath. Generally, the air sacs in the lungs or alveoli are injured. Eventually, the inner walls of the air sacs become weak and can rupture and cause larger air spaces instead of many tiny ones. Furthermore, this lessens the available surface area of the lungs and oxygen that enters the bloodstream.

Some people with emphysema have chronic bronchitis which is the inflammation of the tubes which carry air to the lungs and result to a persistent coughing. In addition, emphysema and chronic bronchitis are conditions that can result to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to smoking.

Symptoms of emphysema

Shortness of breath and difficulty climbing stairs.
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty climbing stairs
  • Fingernails and lips becomes blue or gray with exertion
  • Not mentally alert


  • Exposure to tobacco and marijuana smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes and dust
  • Inherited deficiency of a protein protecting the elastic structures in the lungs called the alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency emphysema.


  • Increased pressure in the arteries that attaches the heart and lungs and result to a condition called cor pulmonale where a section of the heart expands and becomes weak.
  • Pneumothorax or collapsed lung
  • Large hole in the lungs or bullae. They can become large as half the size of the lungs and reduce the space available for the expansion of the lungs. Big bullae increase the risk of developing pneumothorax.


  • Minimize exposure to irritants such as smoking, air pollution and manufacturing fumes.
  • Change regularly the furnace and filters of air conditioners to lessen the irritants at home.
  • Use the prescribed bronchodilators which function in dilating the muscles of the airways by opening it and allow more oxygen. Generally, it also lessens wheezing. Bronchodilators are short and long-acting such as albuterol.
  • Take the prescribed inhaled corticosteroids to lessen the inflammation and relieve shortness of breath and respiratory symptoms. Mucolytics thins out mucus and makes it easier to cough up. It also lessens flare ups of the condition.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke to prevent making the condition worse.
  • Perform exercises regularly to increase the capacity of the lungs. Perform cardio excercises such as jogging, walking, jumping rope and low-impact exercises such as water aerobics and cycling.
  • Protect the body from cold air to prevent spasms of the bronchial passages and difficulty in breathing. Wear a scarf or cold-air mask that covers the mouth and nose before going outside, to make the air warm that enters the lungs.
  • Maintain annual vaccination such as for pneumonia and flu. The 23-valent pneumococcal vaccination is given for people older than 65 years old and younger people who are at a high risk of getting the infection. Generally, flu shots are given to people young as 6 months and older every season.
  • Lastly, drink plenty of fluids to help thin out mucus and makes it easier to eliminate. Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day.

More Information

The details posted on this page on emphysema is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage respiratory conditions, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.





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