Emphysema can't be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor might suggest:
- Bronchodilators. These drugs can help relieve coughing, shortness of breath and breathing problems by relaxing constricted airways, but they're not as effective in treating emphysema as they are in treating asthma or chronic bronchitis.
- Inhaled steroids. Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays may help relieve shortness of breath. Prolonged use may weaken your bones and increase your risk of high blood pressure, cataracts and diabetes.
- Antibiotics. If you develop a bacterial infection, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia, antibiotics are appropriate.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach you breathing exercises and techniques that may help reduce your breathlessness and improve your ability to exercise.
- Nutrition therapy. You'll also receive advice about 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. If you have severe emphysema with low blood oxygen levels, using oxygen regularly at home and when you exercise may provide some relief. Many people use oxygen 24 hours a day. It's usually administered via narrow tubing that fits into your nostrils.
Depending on the severity of your emphysema, your doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery, including:
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- 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 is an option if you have severe emphysema and other options have failed.
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- Goldman L, et al. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Rosenow EC (expert opinion) Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 25, 2013.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Weiss ST. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Risk factors and risk reduction. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Rennard SI. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis and staging. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Ferguson GT, et al. Management of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
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