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By Niki Hampton
Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that is long-term and progressive. When the linings of the air sacs in the lungs become damaged emphysema occurs. These linings are incredibly fragile. Emphysema develops slowly over years. The tissue between the air sacs is destroyed and allows for air pockets in the lungs to develop. Air then becomes trapped in this damaged tissue and the lungs slowly enlarge causing difficulty breathing.
Emphysema affects the strength and ability to blow air out. This limitation causes breathing difficulties. With these difficulties come a persistent cough, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and coughing up mucus. While, those with emphysema experience these symptoms all the time, a flare up can occur and be dangerous. A flare up is indicated when these symptoms are exacerbated. This is generally caused by an infection, like bronchitis and pneumonia, or air pollution.
Smoking is the most common cause of emphysema. The smoke destroys the air sac linings, though how exactly, is unknown. Studies show that smokers are six times more likely to develop it over nonsmokers. It’s estimated more than 24 million people in the U.S. have emphysema. Many do not even know they have it until a major complication occurs. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. One other cause of emphysema is Alpha-1 Antritrypsin deficiency.
Diagnosing emphysema can be done through a variety of tests. Medical history is taken into consideration and a physical exam will be done by a doctor. A lung function test, FEV1, can be used to measure the amount and speed at which air moves in and out. Spirometry is the most important of these tests. A chest x-ray may also be done to help rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.
While, there is no cure for emphysema there are ways to help slow the progression and control the symptoms. Avoiding triggers, like air pollution, and quitting smoking are the first steps. Some symptoms, like shortness of breath, can be controlled with medications. Take overall health into consideration as well by exercising regularly and following a healthy diet. Prevention can also be done through medications and other treatment.
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