Emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in which the person has difficulty breathing. It develops over years and damages the tissues of the lungs, especially the alveoli- tiny air sacs inside lungs that perform gas exchange.

Gradually the air sacs get damaged and ruptured, forming a bigger pocket instead of many small ones. Due to this, the surface area of the lungs is reduced, which affects the gaseous exchange, and oxygen can not travel through the bloodstream. Moreover, it causes your lungs to overfill and makes breathing difficult.

Most people with emphysema have a complaint of chronic bronchitis- inflammation of the small tubes that carry oxygen. Chronic bronchitis leads to a persistent cough. Therefore people having emphysema often complain about a persistent cough.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is an umbrella term that involves bronchitis and emphysema. A major causative agent for it is smoking. If you smoke, you are at increased risk of getting COPD.

Treatment can help in slowing down the progress of emphysema, but nothing can reverse the damage that has already occurred to the lung tissues. If you have a complaint of persistent cough or difficulty in breathing, you should visit the healthcare provider soon. To get an expert opinion, you can consult with a Pulmonologist in Lahore.

What Are The Symptoms of Emphysema?

Emphysema does not show its symptoms in the initial stages. It progresses gradually, over the period of years. If you have emphysema, you may become short of breath when doing physical activities. It eventually progresses to the extent that doing a little activity becomes hard for you. As the disease progresses you may end up being short of breath, even at rest.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you get short of breath on doing little activities, and if it is interfering with your day-to-day activities, you should consult with your healthcare provider soon. Do not tell yourself that it is happening because you are aging or getting out of shape. Breathlessness can be an indication of serious health conditions sometimes. You should seek emergency medical care if:

  • You are unable to climb stairs due to breathlessness
  • Your lips or fingernails become greyish blue upon exertion
  • You are not mentally alert

What Are The Causes of Emphysema?

The basic cause for emphysema is irritants. It can occur due to prolonged exposure to irritants such as:

  • Marijuana smoke or tobacco smoke- any kind of smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Dust
  • Chemical fumes

Quite rarely, emphysema can occur due to a deficiency of protein in your body that protects the elastic structure in your lungs. It is a genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency emphysema.

What Are The Risk Factors For Emphysema?

Factors that can put you at risk of developing emphysema are:

  • Smoking- cigarette smoking puts you at risk of developing emphysema because it irritates and damages your lung tissues. The more cigarettes you smoke, and for the longer time, the risk of emphysema increases even more.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke- passive smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of developing emphysema. If you live with a person who smokes, ask them to go outside or somewhere else to protect yourself.
  • Exposure to chemicals, dust, or fumes- breathing in the air that contains fumes of chemicals or dust from grains can put you at risk of developing emphysema. The risk increases even more if you smoke cigarettes.

What Are The Complications of Emphysema?

Emphysema can lead to complications such as:

  • Pneumothorax or collapsed lung
  • Heart problems
  • Bullae- large holes in the lungs

The Bottom Line

Emphysema is a condition in which you have shortness of breath. It occurs when damage to your lung tissue occurs. Treatment can help reduce the progression of emphysema. If you have a complaint of shortness of breath, you should visit the doctor soon. For an expert opinion, you can consult with a Pulmonologist in Islamabad.


Nishi Singh is a professional journalist and editor in New Delhi. She has studied Mass Communication from National Institute of Mass Communication.