Can your lungs heal from emphysema?

Have you ever felt how amazing it is to be able to breathe fresh air everyday? Remember how devastating it was when the haze was so bad that declaration of Disaster Emergency forces us to stay at home for a while? To be able to breathe normally and effortlessly is certainly a blessing in disguise. There are many health problems that could lead to breathing issues or affecting the respiratory system. Some may even need medicine in their whole life to treat the condition. Among one of the diseases is emphysema.

Emphysema is one of the diseases as part of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a group of lung diseases making a person having breathing difficulty and usually gets worse as time goes by. Emphysema is characterised by the damages of the lung tissues, specifically the tiny air sacs called the ‘alveoli’. In normal healthy people, the air sacs expands when air from inhalation fills the lungs. Just like a small balloon, this motion is made possible due to the elastics or stretchy air sacs and deflates when the air goes out through exhalation. In emphysema, the damaged walls between the air sacs cause the alveoli to lose their shape and ruptures, creating a huge air pocket instead of many small air sacs. This huge air pocket causes the lung to inflate excessively and affect the healthiest part of the lungs, making the lungs too slowly filled with air and lead to breathing difficulty.

Emphysema is caused by the long-term exposure to irritants that damages the respiratory system which includes the lungs and its airways. Common irritants include tobacco smoking. Apart from direct contact with the irritant in cigarette, second-hand smoker, biomass fuels or other air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and chemicals or dust in the air can trigger emphysema. Lung infections, allergies and low birth weight of the newborn may develop COPD in future. In rare cases, genetic conditions of the alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may lead to emphysema apart from liver abnormalities.

Symptoms of emphysema may not be prominent at first. Most patients initially complain of shortness of breath and cough with or without phlegm. Some may not even have any symptoms at all and during physical examinations in the doctor’s office is normal. As the diseases progress, the symptoms usually become severe that is marked by increased shortness of breath, cough producing more mucus, frequent coughing, a wheezing sound when breathing and acquire frequent respiratory infections. In severe cases, a person may experience weight loss and fatigue. One of the important tests to evaluate COPD is the spirometry.

Since emphysema is a great burden and causing great discomfort, you might wonder if your lungs can heal from emphysema. Unfortunately, a damaged lungs cannot return to its normal state and the damages is permanent. Emphysema will gradually get worse over time. Luckily, many treatments available may help to slow down the progression of the disease and help to reduce the symptoms. Treatments such as medicine and pulmonary rehabilitation can improve lung function. However, lifestyle changes is still the most important steps to treat emphysema. This includes quitting smoking cessation, avoidance being the passive smoker and protecting oneself from exposure to other irritants in the air by wearing face mask especially when working in environment concentrated with such insults.

In essence, emphysema is not a disease that can be cured. Taking preventative measures against the disease is the best way to protect oneself from COPD including emphysema. If you have emphysema or unsure your symptoms lead to it, best to get medical advice and have discussion about what you can do to help alleviate the symptoms.

Also read – Dengue Prevention.