Start reading about emphysema symptoms and treatment options if you suspect signs of lung disease or have stages of emphysema today keeping in mind it's never too late to stop emphysema from getting worse and possibly even reverse your lung conditions and improve lung health.

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Chart shows damaging and life threatening negative changes to lung condition attibutable to smoking  

The Emphysema and Smoking Connection

Emphysema is a chronic lung disease involving damage to the lung air-sacs, which damage would of course negatively effect breathing. There is progressive destruction of alveoli and the surrounding lung tissues. With advanced emphysema the large air cysts develop where normal lung tissue once was. Air is trapped in the lungs due to a lack of supportive tissue, which in-turn decreases blood oxygenation.

Smoking accounts for at least 85% of all people who pass-away which was attributable to emphysema, lung disease, lung cancer and COPD. Far and away cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of emphysema, lung cancer and lung failure. When exposed to cigarette smoke, the air sacs in the lungs produce defensive cells, called macrophages, which "eat" the inhaled particles. But macrophages are stimulated to release materials which can destroy the proteins that let the lungs expand and contract, called elastin and collagen.

Quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke can prevent the occurrence of emphysema and at least slow-down the lung disease down if it's already underway. Other changes to your environment, such as avoiding smog and air pollution, may also help prevent the development of emphysema, or at least keep it from worsening. If helping people recover is something you're interested in, consider getting a degree in nursing.

By now, most of us are well aware cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco end-up causing over 600,000 Americans each year to pass-away accounting for one out of every five premature demises in this country. Emphysema due to smoking is a condition that hinders many people!

Lung cancer is just the first in a long list of tobacco related serious (often fatal) health issues and chronic diseases, which include "emphysema" a very serious and often chronic medical condition. Even your skin can be damaged by smoking. Most people don't realize long-term cigarette smoking causes premature aging of skin. Many of the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke also damage collagen and elastin, which are fibers giving skin its strength and elasticity. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely due to smoke damage from smoking.

It's also widely believed smoking contributes significantly to arteriosclerosis and heart disease, including the onset of early heart disease. There is a considerable amount of heavily researched evidence of other health conditions caused directly by smoking, which medical research and the gathering of doctors evidence is ongoing. Emphysema and Lung Cancer are being researched intensely with the latest nano-technology research but until now there are unfortunately no verified major medical breakthru's to report at this time.

Emphysema & Lung Disease - Medical Overview

An emphysema related condition is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (a.k.a. COPD), an acronym for a group of diseases which cause progressive damage to your lungs. These diseases include chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Of the approximate 20-million plus Americans with C.O.P.D. it is estimated more than 3-million have symptomatic emphysema and millions more are in the early stages of the chronic lung disease before easily recognized signs and lung disease symptoms become obvious.

Unlike asthma, which occurs when the muscles in your airways tighten, emphysema causes a loss of tissue elasticity in the walls of the small air sacs in your lungs. Eventually, the walls stretch and break, creating larger, less efficient lung air sacs that aren't able to handle the normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

When emphysema is advanced, you must work so hard to expel air from your lungs that breathing becomes difficult and breathing can consume 20-percent or more of your resting energy.

Notice how left lung looks more damaged vs right on emphysema xray

Unfortunately, because emphysema develops gradually over the course of many years, you may not experience typical emphysema and lung condition disease symptoms such as shortness of breath until irreversible lung damage has already occurred. Instead of an emphysema cure, emphysema treatment focuses more on relieving emphysema symptoms and avoiding serious complications.

Signs and Symptoms

The main symptoms of emphysema are shortness of breath, breathing difficulty and lowered physical activity and exercise capacity, both of which are likely to become worse as emphysema disease progresses. In time, you may have trouble breathing even when lying down, and it may be especially hard to breathe during and after respiratory infections, such as the common cold, or the flu.

May 31 is world-wide no smoking day

Other signs and symptoms of emphysema include:

When you inhale, air travels to your lungs through two major airways called bronchi. Inside your lungs, the bronchi subdivide like the roots of a tree into a million smaller airways (bronchioles) that finally end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). You have about 300 million air sacs in each lung. Within the walls of the air sacs are tiny blood vessels (capillaries) where oxygen is added to your blood and carbon dioxide — a waste product of metabolism — is removed. The air sac walls also contain elastic fibers that help them expand and contract like small balloons when you breathe.

Effects of Emphysema - What happens?
In emphysema, lung inflammation destroys these fragile walls of the air sacs, causing them to slowly lose their elasticity. As a result, the bronchioles collapse, and air becomes trapped in the air sacs, which over stretches them and interferes with your ability to exhale (hyperinflation).

In time, this overstretching may cause several air sacs to rupture, forming one larger air space instead of many small ones. Because the larger, less-elastic sacs aren't able to force air completely out of your lungs when you exhale, you have to breathe harder to take in enough oxygen and to eliminate carbon dioxide.

The process works something like this: Normally, you exhale in two ways, actively and passively. When you exert yourself and need more oxygen, your chest muscles contract, forcing air out rapidly. On the other hand, when you sit quietly, your diaphragm contracts and your chest muscles expand to take air in, but your muscles don't actively contract to let the air out. Instead, the elastic tissue around your air sacs contracts, and your lungs passively shrink.

But if you have emphysema, many of these elastic fibers have been destroyed, and you must consciously force air out of your lungs. The forced exhalation compresses many of your small airways, making breathing and expelling air even more difficult.

Most Common Cause is Smoking
Cigarette smoke is by far the most common cause of emphysema and other serious lung conditions. The damage begins when tobacco smoke temporarily paralyzes the microscopic hairs (cilia) that line and protect your bronchial tubes.

Inhaler's help emphysema patient breathing

Normally, these hairs sweep irritants and germs out of your lungs and airways. But when smoke interferes with this sweeping movement, irritants remain in your bronchial tubes and infiltrate the alveoli, inflaming the tissue and eventually breaking down elastic fibers.

Protein Deficiency Plays a Role
In a small percentage of people, emphysema results from low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt), which protects the elastic structures in your lungs from the destructive effects of certain enzymes. A lack of AAt can lead to progressive lung damage that eventually results in emphysema.

AAt deficiency is a hereditary condition that occurs when you inherit two defective genes, one from each parent. Although severe AAt deficiency is rare, millions of people carry a single defective AAt gene. Some of these people have mild to moderate symptoms; others have no symptoms at all. Carriers are at increased risk of lung and liver problems and can pass the defect to their children.

People with two defective genes have a high likelihood of developing emphysema, usually between the ages of 30 and 40. The progression and severity of the disease are greatly exacerbated by smoking.

Experts recommend that people with early-onset emphysema — especially those who don't smoke or have other risk factors for the disease or who have a family history of AAt deficiency — be tested for the defective gene. People who are found to have a genetic predisposition for AAt deficiency may want to consider having close family members tested as well.

Screening and Diagnosis for Emphysema

To determine if you have emphysema, your doctor is likely to recommend certain tests, including:

When to consult with your Doctor

See your doctor if any of the following apply to you:

These signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean you have emphysema, but they do indicate your lungs may not be functionaing well and should be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible.

Self-care for Emphysema

If you have emphysema, you can take a number of steps to halt its progression and to protect yourself from emphysema complications:

Coping with Emphysema and Breathing Exercises

Some simple exercises can improve your breathing if you have emphysema or another chronic lung disorder. They help you control the emptying of your lungs by using your abdominal muscles. Do them two to four times daily.

Diaphragmatic breathing
To perform this type of breathing exercise, take these steps:

Practice diaphragmatic breathing on your back until you can take 10 to 15 consecutive breaths in one session without tiring. Then practice it on one side and then on the other. Progress to doing the exercise while sitting erect in a chair, standing up, walking and climbing stairs (if possible).

Pursed-lip breathing
Try the diaphragmatic breathing exercises with your lips pursed as you exhale, that is, with your lips puckered — the flow of air should make a soft "sssss" sound. Inhale deeply through your mouth and exhale. Repeat 10 times at each session.

Deep-breathing exercise
While sitting or standing, pull your elbows strongly back while deeply inhaling. Hold the breath in with your chest arched, for a count of 5e, then force the air out by contracting your abdominal muscles hard. To achieve the optimum benefits from deep breathing exercise you should repeat this lung health exercise routine 10 or more times, several times a day.

A special thanks to The Mayo Clinic and its Foundation for Medical Education and Research, who contributed some content to Emphysema Organization website.