Emphysema is a respiratory disease that belongs in the category called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It came from a Greek word that means "to blow into." This disease affects the lungs by diminishing one's ability to exhale. Its main target is the alveoli which expands in every inhalation and deflates in every exhalation keeping it inflated, not allowing air to escape with each expiration. Patients suffering from emphysema are called “pink puffers” because of the pink color on their faces during attacks.
Signs and Symptoms
Shortness of breath during activities is the initial sign of emphysema. As the disease progress, this may occur even when at rest. Other symptoms are:
- Chest tightness
- Reduced capacity for physical activity
- Chronic coughing, which could also indicate chronic bronchitis
- Loss of appetite and weight
People affected with emphysema can also easily be spotted because of their “barrel-chest.”" This is because the non-deflation of the alveoli is forcibly expanding the space of the lungs to occupy the intra- thoracic cavity.
Causes and risk factors
Lungs are harmed due to reactions to irritants that enter the airways and alveoli. The clear causes for emphysema according to research are as follows:
- Cigarette smoking - When cigarette smoke is inhaled, the air sacs of the lungs produce defensive
cells, called macrophages, which "eat" the inhaled particles. However, these macrophages release materials which can destroy the proteins called elastin A protein that let the lungs expand and contract. Cigarette smoke also damages the cilia which cleans the lungs.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT deficiency) is an inherited condition and occurs in varying
degrees. AAT is known to protect against some of the damage caused by macrophages. Without this, the walls of the bronchial tubes and the alveoli are both impaired.
Diagnosis and tests
The following methods are used to diagnose and determine the severity of the emphysema:
- History and physical examination
- Chest x-ray and, possibly, a [[computed tomography scan|CT scan] of the chest
- Lung function tests
- Testing for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT deficiency)
To date, emphysema is incurable. There are treatments available but their goal is just to slow down the development of other ailments. However, the most important step to take is to stop smoking.
Patients with emphysema due to alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can receive alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor (A1PI), which slows lung tissue destruction.
Patients with emphysema are more susceptible to other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure. Air pollution or a respiratory infection can lead to an acute COPD exacerbation, with exaggerated difficulty in breathing and low oxygen levels. Some may need admission to an intensive care unit and may need an artificial breathing machine until the infection clears.
Prevention and control
Quitting from smoking is the best prevention from this disease. For non-smokers, it is best to avoid inhaling second-hand smoke. Wearing a mask can also help protect the lungs especially if you are constantly exposed to harmful chemicals or dust. Exercise and a healthy diet are also recommended.
Cases in the Philippines
In the Philippines, it is estimated that cigarette smoking kills as many as 250 people a day or 90,000 Filipinos a year. In 2008, Amalia Gilmour, a former heavy smoker affected with emphysema, helped Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCAP) in its campaign for the passage of the Picture-Based Health Warning Law. The said legislation requires tobacco companies to put picture- based health warnings on cigarette packs. Even when confined to a wheel chair with an oxygen tank tagging along, she shared to the public the misery smoking has caused her.