Emphysema is a chronic lung disease involving damage to the lungs air sacs which effects breathing. There is progressive destruction of alveoli and the surrounding lung tissues. With advanced emphysems the large air cysts develop where normal lung tissue used to be. Air is trapped in the lungs due to a lack of supportive tissue, which in-turn decreases blood oxygenation.
Research for a Cure
An important area of emphysema research involves the surgical procedure called lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS), though a major national study concluded that it only helps certain subgroups of patients. LVRS is invasive, and the benefit rather modest, so demand for it in the last few years was lower than expected.
A less invasive alternative, bronchoscopic lung volume reduction, is now being pursued. It involves placing one-way valves in the bronchial tubes to help reduce areas of overinflation within the lungs most severely affected by emphysema (as opposed to removing damaged tissue from the lungs by means of LVRS). Several companies are working on such devices, which are in various stages of development.
Doctors can help persons with emphysema live more comfortably with their disease. The goal of treatment is to provide relief of symptoms and prevent progression of the disease with a minimum of side effects. The doctor's advice and treatment may include:
Quitting smoking -the single most important factor for maintaining healthy lungs.
Bronchodilator drugs (prescription drugs that relax and open up air passages in the lungs) - may be prescribed to treat emphysema if there is a tendency toward airway constriction or tightening. These drugs may be inhaled as aerosol sprays or taken orally.
Antibiotics-if you have a bacterial infection, such as pneumococcal pneumonia.
Exercise -including breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles used in breathing as part of a pulmonary (the term "pulmonary" refers to the lungs) rehabilitation program to condition the rest of the body.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Herbs can be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of emphysema, helping the body to ward off infection, and easing the asthmatic symptoms that often accompany emphysema.