Emphysema can't be cured, but prompt treatment may prevent further
damage to your respiratory system and lead to an improvement in your
lung function. Besides steps you can take on your own, your doctor may
recommend these treatments for emphysema and its complications:
A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as ampicillin,
tetracycline, erythromycin and cephalosporin, may help combat the
periodic respiratory infections that can accompany emphysema. This
must be done carefully so as not to overuse these drugs and cause
excessive resistance to bacteria.
against influenza and pneumonia.
If you have emphysema or other forms of COPD, you'll need an
influenza (flu) shot annually and a pneumonia shot every 5 to 7
These are medications that help open up constricted airways. Taking
bronchodilators may provide relief if you have emphysema accompanied
by symptoms of asthma. Some bronchodilators may be more effective
than others, but they must be used correctly to be effective at all.
If you have severe emphysema, using oxygen at home may provide some
relief. Various forms of oxygen are available as well as different
devices to deliver oxygen to your lungs. Talk with your doctor about
which is best for you. Ask your doctor for oxygen distributors in
your area. Your dealer can set up your equipment, instruct you on
care and maintenance and provide follow-up visits.
Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays may relieve symptoms
of emphysema associated with asthma and bronchitis. Although inhaled
steroids have fewer side effects than oral steroids, prolonged use
may increase the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure,
cataracts and diabetes.
If you have emphysema because you inherited a deficiency of
alpha-1-antitrypsin — a protein that protects your lungs from
destructive enzymes — weekly infusions of the protein may slow
damage to your lung tissue.
In a procedure called lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS), or "lung
shaving," your surgeon removes small wedges of damaged tissue from
both of your lungs — usually 20 percent to 30 percent of each lung.
A CT scan before the operation helps your doctor assess the location
and extent of the damage. Removing some damaged air sacs reduces the
size of your lungs. As a result, your diaphragm returns to a more
normal position and contracts and relaxes more effectively and
efficiently, and air exchange improves. Another procedure uses
lasers to remove damaged lung tissue, but this technique hasn't been
as effective as volume reduction surgery. Both surgeries still are
considered experimental. You need to quit smoking before being
considered for LVRS; not everyone with emphysema is a candidate for
Lung transplantation is an option if you have severe emphysema and
other options have failed. Usually just one lung is transplanted
because the survival rate has proved to be higher for people with
single-lung transplants than for people with double-lung
Pulmonary rehabilitation program
Part of treatment involves a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which
combines education, exercise training and behavioral intervention to
help restore you to the highest possible level of independent living.
You'll receive help with smoking cessation and your nutritional needs,
and you may learn special breathing techniques and ways to conserve
You'll also be given an exercise program that's appropriate for you.
This may include aerobic exercises such as walking and riding an
exercise bike as well as special exercises for your arms and legs.
Most cases of emphysema are due to smoking. If you smoke — cigarettes,
cigars or a pipe — your chance of developing emphysema is 10 times
greater than it is for nonsmokers. The best way to prevent emphysema is
to not smoke or to stop smoking. In addition, try to limit your exposure
to secondhand smoke.
Although smoking is the most common cause of emphysema, occupational
exposure to chemical fumes and dust also is a risk factor. Try wearing a
dust mask for protection if you work in such an environment.
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