Emphysema is a lung disease that limits the ability of the lungs to release air. The bronchioles of the lungs are damaged, and thus the lungs lose their elasticity. The alveoli do not deflate totally and there is difficulty in expelling air. The ‘old’ air is left trapped inside the alveoli; hence it is also hard to store ‘new’ air in them. Thus the main symptom of emphysema is difficulty in breathing, sometimes even when at rest. Emphysema usually targets persons over 50 years of age, and is frequently accompanied by another lung ailment, chronic bronchitis, wherein the tissues and airways of the lungs are inflamed.
Among the famous personalities who were afflicted with emphysema are Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy, Leonard Bernstein, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Ike Turner and Amy Winehouse.
There is no permanent cure for emphysema. If the patient is a smoker, then he is immediately advised to stop smoking. For medication, persons with a deficiency in the alpha-1 antitrypsin enzyme are given the alpha-1 protease inhibitor, so that lung tissue will not be destroyed any further.
Patients with emphysema have difficulty expelling air, so that the feeling of breathlessness is very hard for them. Their breathing becomes more labored. Rapid breathing when one is breathless is very hard for one with emphysema, as it takes more time to expel all the ‘used’ air. Thus training of breathing is done for these patients. Usually patients are taught to breathe in rapidly and prolong the exhalation of air. Usually inhalation is given a count of two beats, whereas exhalation is given a count of six beats. Patients are taught to narrow or purse their lips when exhaling so that this process is made longer. Then next inhalation in this case is made larger, so that the lost air from the previous long exhalation is immediately replaced.
Once the patient has mastered the breathing training exercises, they are also advised to engage in some form of light to moderate exercise so as to help keep their bodies in shape. A weakened body due to the inefficient use of oxygen is what doctors would like to avoid in this case.
If the airways of the patient are really tight, then a medication of bronchodilators is prescribed for them. Beta2 antagonists are prescribed and are usually short-lasting drugs (Ventolin, Bricanyl and the like). These are used when instant relief is immediately necessary. Recently, longer-acting drugs have been introduced in order to deal with or prevent acute attacks. The anticholinergic drug, on the other hand, has the effect of relaxing the bronchial muscles.
As a last resort, lung reduction surgery is performed such that the unhealthy part of the lung is cut out, allowing for healthier lung tissue to grow and expand. At the other extreme of lung surgery is lung transplant. This surgery is more complex, and thus the decision to undergo a lung transplant must be evaluated very carefully. Thus perhaps the best preventive measure would be to advise smokers to stop smoking immediately.