Emphysema is a damaging disease of the lung in which the alveoli (small sacs) that stimulate oxygen exchange between the air and the bloodstream are destroyed, making an individual progressively more short of breath. As it progresses, emphysema turns the air sacs (which are typically clustered like bunches of grapes) into large, irregular pockets with holes in their inner walls. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream.
Shortness of breath is the primary symptom of emphysema. It is a progressive complaint, worsening over time. Early in the disease, shortness of breath may occur with exercise and activity, but as symptoms gradually worsen they may occur at rest. As more of the lung is destroyed and the lung cannot maintain oxygen concentrations in the bloodstream, the body compensates by gradually increasing the breathing rate.
The main cause of emphysema is long-term exposure to airborne irritants, including:
- Tobacco smoke
- Marijuana smoke
- Air pollution
- Manufacturing fumes
- Coal and silica dust
Factors that increase your risk of developing emphysema include:
Smoking: Emphysema is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, but cigar and pipe smokers also are susceptible. The risk for all types of smokers increases with the number of years and amount of tobacco smoked.
Age: Although the lung damage that occurs in emphysema develops gradually, most people with tobacco-related emphysema begin to experience symptoms of the disease between the ages of 40 and 60.
Exposure to secondhand smoke: Secondhand smoke is smoke that you inadvertently inhale from someone else’s cigarette, pipe or cigar. Being around secondhand smoke increases your risk of emphysema.
Occupational exposure to fumes or dust: If you breathe fumes from certain chemicals or dust, you’re more likely to develop emphysema. This risk is even greater if you smoke.
Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution: Breathing indoor pollutants, such as fumes from heating fuel, as well as outdoor pollutants (such as car exhaust), increases your risk of emphysema.
Emphysema is not a curable disease, once lung damage has occurred it, unfortunately, cannot be reversed. The goal of treatment is to stop further lung destruction and preserve lung function. The focus is on improving quality of life and limiting the interference of emphysema on daily activities. The more an individual can learn about emphysema, the better they can manage to live with this disease and preserve the quality of life that they want.
Care Management can help locate resources and coordinate care. Those who have reached a difficult point in the disease will benefit from the assistance and support that a Care Manager will provide.
For more information on how a Care Manager can assist you and your family with Emphysema and many other diseases or injuries: Contact us at – 877-538-5425