Explaining Emphysema, Part 2: Treatment

Last updated: May 2018

In "Explaining Emphysema, Part 1", we discussed the risk factors and symptoms associated with this condition. Now, let's look at what can be done about it in terms of treatment...

"I have emphysema - now what?"

Emphysema and COPD cannot be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.


Depending upon the severity of your symptoms and progression of the condition, the doctor may suggest:

  • Bronchodilators - These drugs can help relieve coughing, shortness of breath and breathing problems by relaxing constricted airways.
  • Inhaled steroids - Corticosteroid medications inhaled as aerosol sprays reduce inflammation and may help relieve shortness of breath.
  • Antibiotics - If you have a bacterial infection, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia, antibiotics may be indicated.

"Is that all"?

There are additional therapies that are used in the treatment of emphysema. Let's take a look at them:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation - A pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach breathing exercises and techniques that may help reduce breathlessness and improve one's ability to exercise.
  • Nutrition therapy - Advice will be provided concerning proper nutrition. In the early stages of emphysema, many people need to lose weight, while people with late-stage emphysema often need to gain weight.
  • Supplemental oxygen - Severe emphysema with low blood oxygen levels, may require using oxygen regularly at home and during exercise. The supplemental oxygen therapy may provide some relief. Many people use oxygen 24-hours a day. It's usually administered via a nasal cannula or other simple oxygen device.

"What about surgery?"

Depending on the severity of one's emphysema, the doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery.

These can include:

Lung volume reduction surgery- In this procedure, surgeons remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue. Removing the diseased tissue helps the remaining lung tissue expand and work more efficiently and helps improve breathing.Lung transplant - Lung transplantation may be an option if you have severe lung damage and other options have failed and you qualify as a suitable candidate for the procedure.Treatment of ExacerbationsComplications can be managed using drug and oxygen therapy. Antibiotics can help in cases of bacterial infection. Most exacerbations are treated with corticosteroid drugs, such as prednisone, and oxygen therapy. Opioid drugs may relieve severe coughing and pain may be relieved by opioid drugs."And how about stem cell therapy?"In 2014, scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston succeeded in growing human lungs using stem cells. Scientists are beginning to understand how stem cells work and how they can be used to treat medical conditions. But stem cell therapies are still experimental. No stem cell therapies have been approved by the FDA to treat conditions such as COPD as yet. In the future, this could offer hope for people with emphysema and other lung conditions."Is there a way to prevent or vaccinate for emphysema?"Avoiding or quitting smoking is the best way to prevent emphysema. Quitting smoking can also help to stop it from getting worse.Vaccinations can help prevent COPD and emphysema from getting worse as well. An annual flu immunization may be required, and a 5-yearly one against pneumonia may be recommended. This is individualized and may not be suitable for all patients. Be sure to consult with your physician to make certain what is recommended for your specific condition.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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