What Are The First Signs Of Emphysema? How Is Emphysema Treated?


COPD is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, as determined by the World Health Organization (WHO). As it is increasing, WHO suggests that COPD will become the third leading cause of death in the world.

One such health issue is emphysema, which lies in the group of COPD that is found common in the population worldwide.

Though there can be various reasons behind the cause of emphysema, smoking, in addition to air pollution and chemical fumes, is the main culprit. While considering the health of the people, we have provided all the information about emphysema, from an overview to its prevention.

What Is Emphysema? How Is Emphysema Diagnosed?

Emphysema is a progressive lung disease that occurs when the walls of the alveoli are damaged. The alveoli are a network of small things, walled, fragile air sacks (tube-like structures) that end with bronchial tubes (airways).

The oxygen travels through these tubes until it reaches the alveoli further, which the alveoli scratch and distribute the oxygen to other parts of the body.

Symptoms Of Emphysema

In conditions like emphysema, these alveoli get damaged or blocked, which traps the air inside your lungs. In such cases, the person may suffer from a barrel chest appearance where the lungs get bigger, causing difficulties in breathing, face fatigue, and coughing.

As it is a progressive disease, it can be developed due to years of smoking or working in a place where a person faces air pollution.

Therefore, it is essential to identify the symptoms and the reason for emphysema before it gets chronic. In this regard, we have mentioned the symptoms to tackle these serious health issues by consulting with the doctor.

Symptoms Of Emphysema You Need To Identify

As a being progressive disease, emphysema does not start gradually; it takes a lot of time to grow without indicating any symptoms to the patients. At the initial stage, it can seem like normal flu, where you will experience difficulties in breathing or have minor cough problems. The symptoms are so mild that you can’t notice them, and usually, people ignore them.

But as time passes with the increase in age, it also increases gradually and starts interfering with your daily tasks. To tackle this problem, the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has categorized emphysema into four stages.

  • In the first stage, the person uses 80% of lung walls for oxygen supply and faces some mild problems.
  • The second stage comprises 50% to 79% of users of the lungs can face shortness of breath more frequently.
  • The third stage of emphysema consists of almost 70% of damaged lungs, and a person needs to seek a doctor.
  • The last stage is severe emphysema, where a person needs a lung transplant to have healthy lungs.

So, these are the symptoms that a person needs to observe if he/she is keen to smoke. If such things are happening to you, then you must know the causes it is not only about smoking.

Reasons Behind Causing Emphysema

Emphysema can be caused due to long-term exposure to smoking or living or working in areas where air quality is very poor. Additionally, it can also be caused due to chemical fumes or secondhand smoke.  Genetic causes are rare, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can cause emphysema.

Talking about life expectancy, whether you smoke, used to smoke, or have been a passive smoker, it can affect your overall life expectancy. Smoking or living in an air-contaminated area can decrease your life by 3.5 years, which can be a serious health issue. In some cases, genetic factors can also play a role in decreasing your life expectancy.

Diagnosis And Tests Used To Identify The Emphysema Condition

Till now, you must have understood the seriousness of emphysema and its threats to life. Therefore, it is essential to contact a doctor to identify the symptoms first and then get diagnosed. Here, your healthcare provider may ask you various tests to identify the symptoms of emphysema accurately.

Before that, the doctor may test you physically by listening to your lung’s sound through a stethoscope. Then, the doctor will press your chest and try to listen to the hollow sound. If they hear such a sound, your lungs might be trapping the oxygen inside.

Now, the doctor will recommend you for an X-ray to identify the condition of the lungs. They also recommend you get CT scans for 3D images and measure your oxygen level with arterial blood gas (ABG). According to the condition, they may proceed with the treatment methods as per the requirement.

Management And Treatment Methods For Conditions Like Emphysema

The question here arises: if alveoli or walls get damaged in the emphysema, is it possible to heal the lungs? Well, the professional suggests that emphysema can be healed fully as lung cells can’t be prepared to go back to normal. However, choosing the required treatment can help improve the quality of life. 

Treatment Of Emphysema

To tackle this problem, you need to change the lifestyle first, which can done by quitting the smoking habit. In several cases, surgery is the only option to treat emphysema, which may include a lung transplant.

Tips To Prevent Emphysema

Well, prevention is the best way to prevent emphysema, which can be done by quitting smoking. Second, you need to avoid places that contain high air contamination of dust, chemical fume, or other element.

Also Check:- How Does COPD Affect Life? Can You Live A Long Life With COPD?

Final Words

Emphysema, which lies under COPD, is a progressive disease that can lead to life-threatening conditions if not treated on time. For this, an individual can observe their breathing problems and get tired while climbing the stairs. In severe cases, the person may also experience interruptions in their daily tasks, followed by coughing or other lung-related issues.

Emphysema’s conditions may increase with time while damaging your lungs by about 70%. In such cases, surgery is the only option, which may include a lung transplant, or it can be treated through medicines and oxygen therapy if the condition is mild.


  1. National Library of Medicine. Emphysema (https://medlineplus.gov/emphysema.html). Accessed 11/29/2022.
  2. Rakotoson, J, Andriamamonjisoa, JA, Andriamihary, MNO, et al. Giant compressive emphysema: a rare complication of COVID-19 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34969371/)BMC Infect Dis. 2021;21:1283. Accessed 11/29/2022.
  3. American Lung Association. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd). Accessed 11/29/2022.

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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