When we breathe, oxygen from the atmosphere enters into the lungs, which contain numerous tiny sacs called alveoli that allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide into a network of blood vessels. The clusters of alveoli provide a large surface area to allow maximum gas exchange. Blood transported between the lungs and heart help enrich the entire body with oxygen to help in all its functions and flush out carbon dioxide.
Emphysema is a chronic condition that is mostly caused by excessive smoking and long-term exposure to airborne irritants. It is a disease in which the walls of the alveoli weaken and rupture, decreasing the surface area for gaseous exchange and the total amount of oxygen that your body receives. In addition, old air gets trapped in the lungs, leaving no place for fresh air to enter. This results in shortness of breath, which gradually interferes with your daily routine and may even be experienced at rest. In addition, your fingernails and lips may turn blue, and you may lack alertness. In severe cases, it can later lead to the collapse of the lungs, formation of large air spaces and heart problems.
To diagnose emphysema, your doctor will order a chest X-ray or CT scan, blood tests to measure gas levels and lung function tests to measure air flow and lung capacity.
Treatment is mainly aimed at relieving symptoms and controlling the progression of emphysema. Your doctor may prescribe bronchodilators and steroids to relax the constricted airways, making it easier to breathe, or antibiotics if you develop a lung infection. Therapy in the form of breathing exercises and techniques to minimize breathlessness is recommended. You may require supplemental oxygen for severe cases of emphysema. Surgery may also be recommended to remove diseased lung tissue, allowing the rest of the lung to expand better, or to perform a lung transplant.