How is emphysema treated?

Because emphysema can worsen over time and there is no known cure, treatment is focused on slowing the speed of decline. The type of treatment will depend on the severity of the disease.

Quitting smoking: If you smoke, quit. This is the most important step you can take to protect your lungs. It is never too late to quit. Your doctor can help you find the best smoking quitting method for you.

Bronchodilator medications: These medicines relax the muscles around the airways. They are often used to treat asthma. Bronchodilators, given through hand-held inhalants, produce more immediate results and have fewer side effects than oral medications.

Anti-inflammatory medication: These medications reduce inflammation in the airways. However, long-term side effects of these drugs include osteoporosis, hypertension, high blood sugar, and fat redistribution.

Oxygen therapy: Oxygen therapy is prescribed for patients whose lungs are not getting enough oxygen to the blood (hypoxemia). These patients can’t absorb enough oxygen from the outside air and need to get more oxygen through a machine (a nasal catheter or a facemask).

Lung volume reduction surgery: Lung volume reduction surgery involves removing a portion of diseased lung tissue, then joining together the remaining tissue. Doing this may relieve pressure on the breathing muscles and help improve lung elasticity (or stretch). The results of the surgery have been very promising. Not all patients with emphysema are candidates for this surgery.

What are some tips for managing emphysema?

The best way to prevent or reduce further problems is to prevent respiratory infections by:

  • Practicing good handwashing methods
  • Brushing and flossing teeth daily, and using an antibacterial mouth rinse after meals
  • Keeping breathing equipment clean
  • Keeping your house clean and free of dust
  • Getting a flu shot every year
  • Following a doctor-prescribed exercise program
  • Avoiding irritants such as:
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Exhaust fumes
    • Strong perfumes
    • Cleaning products
    • Paint/varnish
    • Dust
    • Pollen
    • Pet dander
    • Pollution

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