What Causes Emphysema?

Emphysema is a long-term progressive lung disease that causes shortness of breath. The alveoli or air sacks of people with emphysema is damaged. Through time, the inner walls of the alveoli become ruptured and weak, which results to the creation of larger air spaced instead of small ones. As a result, the surface area of your lungs is reduced, which leads to a decrease of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream. Keep reading to learn more facts about this disease.

Causes of Emphysema

Due to the nature of this disease, it is important that you educate yourself of the causes of it. Education and knowledge are two fundamental steps to avoid acquiring this long-term and progressive disease.

Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of illness and death among Americans. It’s no wonder that smoking is also the leading cause of emphysema. According to American Cancer Society (ACS), almost all cases of smoking start before a person finishes high school. The younger you are when you begin smoking, the more likely you will become an adult smoker.

Why it is despite the worldwide campaign of the dangers of cigarette smoking, a lot of people are still choosing to cultivate this habit? Peer influence is one of the major causes of teenage smoking. With the perception that smoking can make you look cool, more teenagers are tempted to start smoking just to get the acceptance of their peers. Influence also plays a huge part in smoking. When you grow up in a household where almost all members of your family smoke, you would more likely to follow them smoking. Some people use smoking as a way to cope up with stress and boredom. For them, smoking can help them calm their nerves.

How can smoking contribute to emphysema?

Cigarette smoking as one of the major causes of emphysema can’t be overemphasized. The smoke that’s coming out from the tobacco contributes to this disease in two ways: First, it destroys the lung tissue which leads to air flow obstruction and second, it causes irritation and inflammation of airways that further aggravates obstruction of air flow.

How can smoking destroy the tissues of your lungs? First, the cell in the airways that are tasked to clear up mucus and other secretions are directly affected by cigarette smoke. When you smoke occasionally, the sweeping action of cilia, tiny hairs that line the airways, is disrupted. The longer you smoke, the more damage you make on the function of cilia. Long-term smokers risk the entire disappearance of cilia. When these tiny hairs are gone, you will not be able to clear mucus secretion from your lower respiratory tract.

Though smoking is the major cause of emphysema, great news is that it’s a preventable cause. Before you light up your cigarette stick, think of the consequences that it will give to your body, as well as people around you.

Other risk factors of this disease include:

  • Age – Although damage in the lungs occurs gradually, most patients diagnosed with tobacco-related emphysema displayed the symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Exposure to second hand smoke – Secondhand smoke is what you inadvertently inhale from someone’s pipe, cigarette or cigar. Being exposed to secondhand smoke increases your risk of emphysema.
  • Exposure to dust or foam – You’re more likely to develop this disease if you constantly breathe fumes from chemicals or dust from cotton, grain or mining products.
  • Exposure to pollution – Indoor pollutants such as fumes as well as outdoor pollutants like car exhaust can increase your risk of emphysema.

Symptoms of Emphysema

Now that we know what the causes of emphysema are, it’s time to check the signs and symptoms that are displayed by this disease.

Symptoms may vary from mild to severe, but a chronic cough and shortness of breath are two of the key symptoms of this disease. These signs usually appear in the early stages. A person that experiences a shortness of breath feels having a hard time catching their breath. This starts to display after physical exertion but also happens during rest as the disease progresses. Since it’s a progressive condition, most of the symptoms worsen over time.

In many cases, the disease is not diagnosed until irreversible damage has occurred. Other symptoms include:

  • Bluish tint to the fingertips, lips and skin because of low oxygen level in the blood
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling, usually in the ankles and feet
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing cough
  • Recurring lung infections
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Chest vibration when speaking
  • Morning headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Change in the shape of the chest due to the enlargement of chest wall and lungs
  • Prolonged period of exhalation

Treatments and Preventions of Emphysema

Since smoking is one of the major causes of emphysema, it is wise to stop smoking. Though your lungs may not be able to repair themselves, you would be slowing down any further damage if you quit smoking.

Treatments of this disease include:

  • Bronchodilators to open and relax the airways.
  • Oxygen therapy – uses machine that increases the amount of oxygen that reaches your body as you breath.
  • Antibiotics are prescribed to fight off infection.
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and for the prevention of flare-ups.
  • Surgery for pneumothorax where the separated portion of your chest wall and lung wall are joined.
  • Lung surgery or transplant.
  • Vaccination against pneumonia and influenza to help avoid respiratory infections.
  • Exercise to strengthen your body and leg muscles.

As they say, prevention is always better than cure. If you don’t want to experience the sufferings caused by this disease, don’t even try to light up that first cigarette stick. And help protect your lungs by following these tips:

  • Stay away from smokers to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid air pollution.
  • Use humidity control and filter on your air conditioning units.
  • Avoid high altitudes.
  • If you have asthma and emphysema, avoid allergic triggers.
  • Avoid infections by practicing proper hygiene and sanitation.
  • Drink lots of water to reduce mucous buildup in your air ways.

We are the captain of our own health. Live a healthy lifestyle and avoid smoking to lower your risk of acquiring this long-term progressive disease. 

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