Emphysema is one of the many Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD) that a person can be afflicted with in their lifetime. The characteristics of Emphysema is that it is slow progressing, damaging the alveoli (the air sacs of one’s lungs) over time, thus progressively making breathing difficult for that individual. Many individuals suffering from emphysema will turn to various means of breathing better from breathing exercises to oxygen concentrators to help them breathing during the course of the disease.
Smoking is the most common cause for Emphysema.
Our lungs are made up of elastic air sacs called the alveoli that branch out in clusters on either side of the body within the ribcage. Oxygen coming in through the trachea (commonly referred to as the windpipe) to the lungs will be filtered through the alveoli supplying oxygen to the blood stream. It will then be circulated throughout the body and will later be expelled from the lungs as carbon dioxide. Characteristics of healthy lungs would include be the elasticity of the small air sacs which allows more oxygen to pass through making breathing easier.
However, in the case of a patient suffering from Emphysema, with progress damage to the inner walls of the air sacs it will weaken and rupture over time. Thereby, rather than a small area for the air to come in will be converted into a larger surface area making it more difficult to intake the normal amount of oxygen and thereafter sending it to the bloodstream. That is, when your alveoli are damaged, you will find that old air will be trapped in the damaged air sacs unable to be expelled and thereby no making room for fresh and oxygen rich air to be processed into your body.
Treatment can slow the progression Emphysema & damage to your lungs.
It cannot be reversed!
Many symptoms can appear when suffering from Emphysema, however the most common and first signs would include shortness of breath. It would be noted as a gradual deterioration, where in the end you may find yourself with shortness of breath even while resting. At first, you may find yourself staying away from certain activities that may cause shortness of breath or strain your ability to breathe. If this progresses over several months, it is a good idea to seek medical help. Often people put it aside thinking its old age, or added weight; however, many times it could be serious and could save your life. Some of the dead giveaways would include shortness of breath while climbing stairs, being unable to stay alert mentally, or even your fingertips turning blue after exertion (which is a clear indication of lack of oxygen in your blood stream).
Whilst the most common cause for emphysema is smoking (tobacco smoke), other airborne irritants can also affect your lungs such as marijuana smoke, air pollution and manufacturing fumes. If you are working in conditions which expose you to smoke, air pollution or fumes; make sure to wear a mask to prevent you from inhaling these irritants and lowering your risks.
Other risks that affect your chances of developing emphysema include smoking (which does includes pipe and cigars), age (people between 40 to 60 years of age are susceptible), being exposed to second-hand smoke, occupational and natural exposures to irritants.
COPD is the umbrella term for lung diseases which can progress over time, Emphysema being one of the many.