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How Do You Treat Emphysema?

emphysema treatment, how to treat emphysema, emphysema, treatment of emphysemaEmphysema is among a group of lung diseases known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Primarily caused by smoking, the disease damages the alveoli (air sacs), the site in the lungs where gas exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. To date, there is no cure for emphysema, but treatment of emphysema can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Smoking Cessation

No other preventative factor carriers more weight than smoking cessation in the prevention and treatment of emphysema. Quit smoking medications, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), varenicline tartrate (Chantix) and buproprion (Zyban, Wellbutrin), can double your chances of quitting for good. Counseling and support groups are also recommended to help strengthen your resolve and support you through your journey. If you’re ready to quit or have questions about quitting, visit SmokeFree.gov.[1]

Medications for Treatment of Emphysema

The medications you’ll receive for treatment of emphysema depend upon its severity and may include:[2]

  • Bronchodilators – either short-acting, long-acting or a combination of both, these medications help relax and widen constricted airways to ease cough, relieve shortness of breath and make breathing easier.
  • Corticosteroids – usually given in aerosol form to help relieve shortness of breath by reducing swelling and inflammation of the airways.
  • Antibiotics – should only be taken if you have a bacterial infection, such as acute bronchitis or pneumonia, in addition to your emphysema.

Oxygen Therapy – many people with emphysema have low levels of oxygen in their blood and need oxygen therapy as a supplement to the air they breathe. Oxygen therapy has many benefits, including increasing survival for some people, when used for more than 15 hours a day.[3]

And don’t worry about being tethered to an oversized home oxygen concentrator. The Inogen family of portable and stationary oxygen concentrators offers the perfect, lightweight solution for all your oxygen needs.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation – a program of education and exercise that helps people with emphysema reduce their symptoms and live a better quality of life. Pulmonary rehab has many benefits, including prolonged survival, reduced perception of breathlessness, improved exercise tolerance and more.[4]

Nutrition Therapy – over overlooked as part of an emphysema treatment plan. Making an appointment with a dietician that’s knowledgeable about COPD can be extremely helpful in managing your nutritional needs in whatever stage disease you’re in. Many times, newly diagnosed people need to lose weight and people in the advanced stages of the disease need to gain weight.2 These are complex issues that need to be addressed early on in order for you to maintain as much strength and vitality as you possibly can.

Lung Surgery – people in the advanced stages of emphysema who don’t respond well to standard treatment may benefit from lung surgery, which may include lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) or lung transplant.2 For more information or to find out if you qualify, talk to your primary health care provider or pulmonologist.

Can You Reverse Emphysema?

Although the lung damage caused by emphysema cannot be reversed, early diagnosis, making important lifestyle changes and following your emphysema treatment plan can play important roles in your prognosis (how long you’ll live after diagnosis).

Quitting smoking, avoiding all respiratory irritants, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting vaccinated and preventing respiratory infections are just a few of the things recommended to improve your prognosis if you have emphysema.2

For more information about treatment of emphysema, contact your primary care provider or pulmonologist.

 [1] SmokeFree.gov. Quitting Smoking. Accessed April 21, 2018.

[2] Mayo Clinic. Emphysema. April 28, 2017.

[3] Thomas L. Croxton , William C. Bailey. “Long-term Oxygen Treatment in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Recommendations for Future Research”. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Vol 174. pp. 373-378, 2006.

[4] “Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease”. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Updated 2018.

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