What is emphysema?
- Emphysema is a common cause of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease).
- One of the commonest causes of emphysema is smoking, however, non-smokers can develop emphysema due to a genetic condition called alpha one antitrypsin deficiency.
- There are also other causes like exposure to smoke in confined spaces that could cause emphysema in nonsmokers.
Also, it is important to remember that damage caused by smoking is permanent.
Therefore even if you have stopped smoking many years ago, you could still develop emphysema due to the smoking.
What are the symptoms of emphysema?
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent chest infections
- Smokers cough
- Together with these symptoms, a past or present history of smoking and family history of emphysema as well as family history of alpha one antitrypsin deficiency is important in making a diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that many other conditions like chronic asthma or chronic bronchiectasis can also present with similar clinical features as emphysema, therefore a thorough assessment by a specialist is required to make a diagnosis.
What is the diagnosis & treatment for emphysema?
There are a number of steps your doctor will take to diagnose and treat emphysema.
- Spirometry/lung function – a functional measure of your lung capacity done via a simple breathing test, as well as either a chest X-Ray.
- Dr Herath also checks the alpha one antitrypsin levels in all non-smokers as well
- Also, it is her practice to obtain a high-resolution CT scan of the chest in every patient suspected of emphysema or COPD at the initial visit so that I have a greater understanding of the patient’s condition.
Treatment focus for emphysema includes:
- Bronchodilator medications (inhaled aerosol sprays) to relax and open the airways
- Steroids (as short-term as possible)
- Antibiotics to treat pneumonia and acute bronchitis or flu complications.
- Patients with emphysema should receive a flu shot annually and pneumonia shot every five to seven years to prevent infections.
- If the disease progresses, oxygen therapy can help while lung transplantation and lung volume reduction surgery are other options for more advanced emphysema.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation is also critical and includes special breathing techniques, quitting smoking and physician guided exercise programs.