Treatment

Emphysema and COPD can't be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Medications

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.
  • Inhaled steroids. Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays reduce inflammation and may help relieve shortness of breath.
  • Antibiotics. If you have a bacterial infection, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia, antibiotics are appropriate.

Therapy

  • 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.

Surgery

Depending on the severity of your emphysema, your doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery, including:

  • 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 lung damage and other options have failed.