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It’s hard to live an active life when taking each breath exhausts you.

Having emphysema can slow you and your life down to a crawl. It damages the walls of thin air sacs in your lungs called alveoli. And it can trap air in there — leaving you constantly coughing and gasping for breath.

Our experienced healthcare providers understand what you’re going through and know what it takes to treat the damage emphysema can cause. We work closely with you to slow its progression and help your lungs work better so you can breathe easier.

Why Choose Cleveland Clinic for Emphysema Care?

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Trusted experts:

Cleveland Clinic offers unsurpassed expertise and experience in diagnosing and treating even the rarest or most complex lung conditions. You’ll get highly personalized care and the broadest (and latest) range of tests and treatments that may not be available elsewhere.

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Skilled collaborative providers:

When you come to Cleveland Clinic, you get access to every type of provider (and specialty) you need for the best treatment results. Our providers work together as a team to offer you the most personalized care possible. Meet our team.

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Innovation and research:

Our providers constantly research and develop new testing tools and treatment methods for all lung disorders, including emphysema. We do what it takes to provide the best care today and tomorrow.

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Virtual visits:

Sometimes, you might not feel up to an in-person appointment. And that’s OK. Our virtual visits let you connect one-on-one with your provider for quick check-ins and follow-ups from the comfort of your home. All you need is a smartphone, tablet or computer and an internet connection.

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National recognition:

Cleveland Clinic is a trusted healthcare leader. We're recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for our expertise and care.

Diagnosing Emphysema at Cleveland Clinic

Emphysema, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), most often develops after years of smoking (including marijuana, vaping and e-cigarettes). But this ongoing condition can also start from infections or exposure to pollution and chemicals. It can also grow out of inherited (born with it) factors.

This condition damages the fragile air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs that move oxygen to your blood and carbon dioxide out of your lungs. When alveoli are damaged, you can get large air pockets in your lungs. And it can be hard to get this stale air out of your lungs — and fresh air in. Instead, it can be tough to breathe. And you feel short of breath (dyspnea).

Emphysema can get worse without treatment. And many people don’t notice symptoms until the condition has damaged more than half of their lung tissue. They may chalk up early signs like tiredness and gradual shortness of breath to other things. That’s why it’s important to check out these warning signs quickly. Particularly if you smoke or have worked in places with pollutant or chemical exposure.

What to expect at your first visit

It can be unnerving when you can’t breathe right. We’re here to help figure out why that’s happening. One of the most important steps is to hear you tell your story.

That’s why your provider will spend time getting to know you during your first visit. They’ll listen to your concerns, answer your questions and ask you a few of their own, like:

  • What brings you here today?
  • What kind of symptoms are you having?
  • How long have you had them?
  • Have they grown worse?
  • What effect do they have on your life?
  • Do you have other health conditions?
  • Does anyone in your family have breathing problems?
  • Have you had any tests before this appointment?

Your provider can’t make a diagnosis on symptoms alone because emphysema shares many symptoms with other conditions, like heart disease. So, they’ll also do a physical exam and order tests to help confirm a diagnosis.

Testing for emphysema

We use different tests to diagnose emphysema. You may have:

Meet Our Emphysema Team

Cleveland Clinic focuses on team-based care. If you choose to come here for treatment, you’ll have a care team of different providers from different specialties that work together. Your team may include:

Your care team will work together to pinpoint a diagnosis and build a highly personalized treatment plan to help you manage your emphysema.


Our healthcare providers see patients at convenient locations throughout Northeast Ohio, Florida and in London.

Treating Emphysema at Cleveland Clinic

The main focus of any emphysema treatment is to slow down its progress and keep your healthy lung tissue working as best it can. We plan your treatment around how bad your condition is and your goals for managing it.

The first thing your provider will do is recommend that you quit smoking of any kind. We can help you find the best, most effective ways to quit. And we’ll support you as you move through the program. We’ll also recommend a combination of different therapies, like:


There are different types of medications that can help manage and relieve emphysema symptoms, like:

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Cleveland Clinic offers pulmonary rehabilitation for people with lung conditions, like emphysema. Our therapists teach you new skills and exercises to increase your strength and help you breathe easier. And you may find it’s easier to do everyday activities without gasping for breath or getting exhausted.

Oxygen therapy

If we prescribe oxygen therapy, you’ll use an oxygen machine to get more oxygen to your lungs and bloodstream.


For really bad emphysema, your care team may recommend surgery to remove diseased tissue and release air pockets to help you breathe better. Your provider will let you know if surgery is a good option for you as they build your treatment plan.

If they feel surgery could help, you may have minimally invasive lung volume reduction surgery to remove pressure on your breathing muscles. If they recommend bronchoscopic lung volume reduction, they’ll place a one-way valve in your airways to help air leave pockets in your lungs. Or they may feel you could benefit from a lung resection to remove all or part of your damaged lung.

Lung transplant

If your lungs don’t respond to other treatments, we may explore a lung transplant. This surgery replaces your damaged lungs with healthy donor lungs.

Taking the Next Step

When you have emphysema, taking each breath can be tough and exhausting. Cleveland Clinic’s expert healthcare providers are here to help you learn how to manage this chronic condition. From medications to pulmonary rehab to surgery, we can move you toward getting back to living your everyday life and breathing easier.

Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic emphysema experts is easy. We’re here to help you get the care you need.


Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic emphysema experts is easy. We’re here to help you get the care you need.

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