If you are having extreme difficulty catching your breath (acute breathing crisis) and you notice a bluish tinge to your fingernails or lips, your body is not getting enough oxygen and you should seek medical attention immediately. Consult your doctor or go to the emergency room. If you are wheezing or coughing and your usual medicine is not helping, consult your doctor or go to an emergency room.
Emphysema cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to help people with the disease live more comfortably and to prevent progression of the disease. Quitting smoking is the single most important step people can take toward treating their emphysema. Quitting smoking—even in the late stages of disease—is beneficial. The rate of breathing dysfunction in patients with emphysema slows after quitting, and even people with advanced disease in their sixties who have stopped smoking have been shown to live longer than people who continue to smoke.
A variety of options are available to help people stop smoking, such as nicotine-containing patches, gum and nasal spray and perhaps most important, support groups. Certain anti-depressants can also be helpful. Quitting smoking can be extremely difficult. Remember that concerned professionals and other people are available to help you through this tough change.
Avoiding air pollution and environmental contaminants is also beneficial.
Certain exercises and dietary supplements can be helpful. There are exercises that strengthen the diaphragm and abdominal muscles used in breathing. Learning how to control your breathing can also make you feel better. Establishing a general exercise regimen, such as a walking program, under your doctor’s supervision can help you build strength and improve your overall well-being.
A ten minute exercise called “pursed-lip breathing” can improve lung function, especially right before beginning an activity. Lie flat on a bed with your head on a pillow and inhale through your nose, consciously moving your abdominal muscles so that your lungs fill with air. Then exhale through the mouth with the lips pursed, so that you make a hissing sound. The exhalation should last twice as long as the inhalation. Try to push all the air out of the lungs. You should feel pressure in your chest and windpipe. Repeat several times. Once you are accustomed to this exercise, you can perform it anytime you need more air, even while standing.
Learning special positions for sleeping and lying down can help clear your lungs of mucus. A technique known as postural drainage may help some patients. It is usually taught by a physical therapist and can help to drain the upper, middle and lower portions of your lungs. Each position is help approximately 5 to 10 minutes. To drain the middle and lower sections, you should be positioned with your chest above your head. Placing pillows under your hips or using a tilt bed, if one is available, will enable you to achieve this position. To drain the upper lungs, sit up at a 45 degree angle. When you are in the proper postural drainage position, change your position in sequence: turn side to side, lay on your stomach and then lay on your back.
Dietary supplements can help you maintain your weight and nutritional balance if you are becoming too thin. Products such as Ensure (a nutritional drink) may help add calories to the daily intake. Starches and sugars do not need to be limited in stable patients.
Maintaining good hydration to keep secretions loose also assists in eliminating mucus. Try to drink eight glasses of water per day, unless instructed otherwise. Using a humidifier in your home may help as well.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
People with emphysema often need oxygen therapy to keep their blood oxygen at normal levels. Administered oxygen may be needed all the time, only at night, or while traveling on an airplane.
Bronchopulmonary drainage may also be recommended. This procedure helps remove mucus in patients who are unable to cough it out themselves, thereby helping to keep the lungs clear. People with emphysema may find pulmonary rehabilitation programs helpful. Although these programs are not intended to significantly improve lung function, they help the patient cope and learn strategies of living with emphysema.
Surgery is often a drastic option in the care of someone with emphysema. Two extensive surgical procedures can be done to help people with emphysema. Newer, less invasive techniques are also in development. The current extensive surgical techniques are:
- Lung-volume reduction surgery: In this procedure, the most severely diseased parts of the lung are removed to allow the remaining lung tissue and muscles to work better. This surgery often eliminates the need for additional oxygen and improves breathing function.
- Lung transplantation: This procedure is often a last resort for people with emphysema.
Emphysema is one of the most common forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Another common form of COPD is chronic bronchitis, which is an inflammation and swelling of the bronchial wall that obstruct airflow. Emphysema and bronchitis often occur together.
Emphysema lasts a lifetime. If caught in the early stages and treated properly, disease progression can be slowed. However, this requires lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking.
The more severe the damage to the lungs, the poorer the prognosis will be. Only 20% to 30% of patients diagnosed with severe lung damage and carbon dioxide retention will survive for more than five years.
Once emphysema has been diagnosed, routine medical care is necessary. People with emphysema require medical care for the rest of their lives. These patients need to be monitored to evaluate lung function and to alter therapy, when necessary.
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