How is emphysema treated?

How is emphysema treated?

See your doctor at the first sign of symptoms. If you are diagnosed with emphysema, work with your doctor to prevent the disease from getting worse by keeping healthy and clear of any infection.

Medicine - People with emphysema should get pneumonia and influenza vaccines as these infections can cause more damage to the lungs. To manage symptoms of emphysema, the doctor may prescribe a medicine called a bronchodilator (something that helps the airways relax and open up) or a steroid (a strong medicine to reduce inflammation). These drugs can be inhaled or taken as a pill. Additional treatments may include the use of antibiotic drugs for bacterial infections.

Lifestyle - To reduce and control symptoms of emphysema, a person should live a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating well, and not smoking. In addition, people with emphysema should get pneumonia and influenza vaccines as these diseases can cause more damage to the lungs. It is important to eat a healthy diet so the body can fight off infections and to exercise sensibly. If you have emphysema, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program, and learn how to avoid overdoing it. There are special exercises you can do to improve your breathing and positions you can learn to sit in that will help you to manage sudden periods of short breath. Above all, do not smoke and avoid dust or fumes.

Oxygen Therapy - In advanced stages, the person with emphysema may need to use oxygen therapy. Using oxygen therapy means you inhale extra oxygen from some form of container that can be delivered to your house. Some people need to use extra oxygen during exercise, or while sleeping, and others need it all the time. A doctor will order a blood test to tell how much oxygen you need.

There are three common ways of getting oxygen therapy. Oxygen can be stored as a gas that you inhale from a bottle through a tube or as a liquid that turns to gas when the bottle is opened. The third way is to use an oxygen concentrator. This is a device that takes oxygen from the air, concentrates it, and stores it. It does not require extra bottles and is easy to move around.

If you use oxygen therapy it is very important to stay away from flames or extreme heat. You should never smoke or sit near someone smoking.

Surgery - Lung reduction surgery may be another option. Surgery that reduces the lung by getting rid of a damaged section has shown promise and is being tested in a clinical trial by the National Institutes of Health. “Clinical trial” means that some people have the surgery while others use standard treatments that do not involve surgery. Then the doctors compare the results to see whether surgery works well. This surgery has helped many, but there are also serious risks for patients with widespread damage to their lungs. A lung transplant is an option in a very few cases. A doctor can help you decide whether surgery is needed.

To learn more:

Emphysema: Self-care
(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
This site gives advice on how to take care of yourself if you have emphysema.
Patient Education
(American Association of Respiratory Care)
This site provided by a professional organization for respiratory care, provides helpful information about emphysema and COPD and its treatment, exercise tips, nutritional information, sleep apnea, how to use oxygen therapy, and much more.
Pulmonary Health
(The National Emphysema Foundation)
Learn about breathing exercises, physical reconditioning and managing breathing problems. The article on The Normal Lung includes information about the effects of smoking.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials allow scientists and doctors to test new ways to treat illnesses. They are also an option for people to try something new at less cost. If you have emphysema or some other lung disease or condition, you might want to consider participating in a clinical trial. The following links may help you decide if you want to be in a clinical trial.
Learn About Clinical Studies
(National Library of Medicine)
Explains clinical trials in a question and answer format. Presents lots of information that patients and their families will want to know if they are thinking about enrolling in a clinical trial. A list of questions to ask your doctor or the people doing the study is very helpful. Emphysema
(National Institutes of Health)
This site lists government sponsored clinical trials that are currently being conducted in the area of emphysema (COPD) treatment.
Selected NHLBI Clinical Trials Across the U.S.
(National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)
Clinical trials sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health can be found at this site. You can search for trials by disease or condition, age group, and stage of trial. If you want to consider being in a clinical trial, this is a good site to visit with your doctor or health care professional to find out if trials are available.

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Written by: Lillian Trettin, Ph.D.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Monday November 28, 2016 11:02 AM