Emphysema is a chronic (long term) lung condition. It is a form of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The air you breathe goes into your lungs through airways. At the end of our airways in our lungs are tiny air sacs (alveoli). It is the air sacs that become damaged over time in emphysema. As the air sacs are damaged, their inner walls break down causing the sac to become larger. Larger sacs absorb less oxygen than those of normal size. The damage also causes difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The damaged air sacs cannot be replaced.
Symptoms of emphysema may not occur until years after the damage to the air sacs begins. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, decreased mental alertness, and blue or gray fingertips or lips. Risk of developing emphysema is increased if there has been long-term exposure to airborne irritants including tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke, air pollution, and manufacturing fumes. A less common form of emphysema is caused by the lack of a special type of protein (alpha-1-antitrypsin). This type of emphysema is usually caused by a mutation or change in your genes and therefore will run in families.
To diagnosis emphysema, a physician may perform a variety of tests, which may include a chest x-ray to rule out other causes, lab tests to examine oxygen in the blood stream, and lung function tests to measure air flow in and out of the lungs. Treatment to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease may include medications, therapy, or surgery. See a doctor if you have had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, particularly if it is getting worse or interfering with your daily activities. If you have been diagnosed with emphysema, talk with your doctor or specialist about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also a good source of information and support.