If you’ve smoked for years, and have noticed that you have unusual symptoms in your chest that affect your breathing, you might be living with emphysema. Emphysema can interfere with your daily life, interrupting your daily activities with wheezing and breathlessness. Once you’ve been diagnosed with emphysema, it’s important to seek treatment immediately.
Our experienced providers at California Lung Associates in Los Angeles, California, take seriously the possible and likely effects of smoking for extended periods of time. While it’s possible that you can smoke for years with no symptoms, this is not always the case. The number of people living with emphysema continues to rise, so it’s important to understand the disease, and what can be done if you’re diagnosed.
What is emphysema?
Emphysema isn’t a unique condition that exists in its own sphere — it falls under an umbrella category of conditions called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Within the COPD umbrella is a number of progressively detrimental chronic respiratory conditions, including emphysema. Emphysema is the second-most common form of COPD, with roughly 65 million people affected worldwide, including about 16 million people in the US.
COPD diseases affect the airflow in your lungs. Emphysema damages the elasticity of the air sacs that absorb oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream. The condition stretches your air sacs out of their natural shape, eventually collapsing them. This cuts into your body’s necessary oxygen supply, as well as the exit route for your exhaled carbon dioxide.
The most-often reported symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, or dyspnea. A chronic wet cough is another frequently reported symptom, with chest tightness and wheezing rounding out the list of typical early stage emphysema.
Could there be complications from emphysema?
Emphysema is a progressive disease, meaning that without intervention, it will only get worse. Any COPD condition will take a number of years to start showing symptoms, and the severity of these symptoms increases over time. Symptoms of advanced emphysema include:
- Loss of energy
- Unusual weight loss
- Waning appetite
- Anxiety and depression
- Frequent lung infections
- Worsening early stage symptoms
Emphysema is treatable, but the damage to your lungs is permanent. COPD is caused by smoking in all but just over 20% of cases, though second-hand smoke and a rare genetic deficiency can also cause emphysema.
What can I do about my emphysema?
If you have emphysema, you don’t have to face it alone. Your provider at California Lung Associates has both the tools and the necessary experience to guide you through effective treatments for your lungs’ optimal health. It is possible to control your emphysema, and prevent it from getting worse.
Change your lifestyle
Smoking is the chief cause of emphysema, so if you’re a smoker who’s recently been diagnosed with emphysema, it’s important to quit smoking immediately. If you need help quitting smoking, your provider can recommend some resources for you. Avoiding places and situations that may expose you to second-hand smoke is another important consideration for vulnerable lungs.
In addition to quitting smoking, it’s recommended for any and everyone to get regular exercise supported by a balanced diet. Staying hydrated, breathing through your nose in cold environments, and breathing exercises help you treat your emphysema day-to-day.
Ask about bronchodilators
Your provider may recommend bronchodilators, medications that open airways by relaxing tense, inflamed muscles in the throat. Popular prescriptions include both short-acting drugs for flare-ups, and long-acting drugs to help you manage your symptoms over time.
You may need supplemental oxygen, or surgery
Severe cases of emphysema may require more substantial therapies, including supplemental oxygen, or surgical procedures. Adding supplemental oxygen helps to raise your body’s oxygen levels, giving you more energy and better breathing.
In rare and extreme cases, surgical procedures are available for the most severe cases of COPD. The purpose of the surgery is generally to remove damaged tissue from the affected lungs, though lung transplants can also be part of a larger, life-improving treatment plan for severe, late-stage patients.
Stay in touch with your California Lung Associates provider
The news of emphysema may be an unwelcome surprise to some. It’s important to understand that you are not alone — you are a person living with a common illness, and you have a caring provider that can help you manage your symptoms. If you’ve been suffering from symptoms of COPD and emphysema, call us today at 213-441-0156, or book an appointment with us online.