Senior woman breathing deeply

Emphysema is a form of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an irreversible but treatable condition in which the lung tissue is damaged.

Emphysema develops slowly over time, and is most commonly linked to long-term smoking. Because of its link to tobacco smoke, it is also preventable by not smoking cigarettes or tobacco through other means. Environmental factors and genetics also play a role in causing emphysema.

Long-term exposure to smoke slowly damages the lung's air sacs, causing the walls to lose strength causing air-trapping which makes breathing more difficult.

Though it cannot be reversed, COPD specialists at the University of Maryland Medical Center can help to alleviate symptoms and make breathing easier.

To make an appointment with our team, call 410-328-8141.

Emphysema Symptoms

Symptoms develop slowly over time. They include:

  • Frequent coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

Diagnosing Emphysema

Depending on your condition, you may have one or more of the following tests, including:

  • Chest X-ray or CT scan to visualize your lungs
  • Pulmonary (lung) function tests and spirometry to measure your breathing capacity and how much air you can hold in and expel from your lungs
  • Lab testing with arterial blood gas, where blood is taken from your wrist to determine how well your lungs transfer oxygen into your blood stream and remove carbon dioxide
  • Bronchoscopy to view the airways and lungs

Treating Emphysema

The best way to treat emphysema is to prevent it by not smoking or by quitting smoking.

If you are having trouble quitting smoking, speak with your physician about ways to help.

Other treatment options available include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, including steroids, to reduce airway swelling and mucus
  • Bronchodilator medication to relax your airway muscles
  • Inhaler corticosteroids that expand your bronchial tubes
  • Medication to manage symptoms such as coughing and wheezing
  • Oxygen therapy to help you maintain a more active lifestyle
  • Lung volume reduction is available to certain candidates in the form of surgery or valve placement with advanced emphysema
  • Lung transplant is a way to prolong life expectancy for people with advanced emphysema