Chronic exposure to cigarette smoke decreased elasticity of the lungs and destroys the alveoli.
Another cause of emphysema is deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin, a substance that fights a destructive enzyme in the lungs called trypsin. An alpha-1-antitrypsin deficient person cannot fight the destructive effects of trypsin and the lung is slowly destroyed. Though the role of genetics in the development of emphysema is unclear, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency may be inherited.
Other causes of emphysema are air pollution, abnormal airway reactivity, sex and old age. Air pollution has similar effect on the lungs like cigarette smoke. The pollutants will inflame the airways and destroy the lung tissues. Abnormal airway reactivity, such as bronchial asthma, can lead to emphysema. The differences between male and female hormones are suspected to make more men develop emphysema than women. It is also found that lung function normally declines with age, that lung tissues are destroyed as one gets old and this condition will lead to emphysema.
The most common symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. Due to the collapse of the chest wall, a person with emphysema has to struggle to exhale completely because his airways are close when exhaling. In the advance case of emphysema, a person may engage in "purse-lipped breathing" wherein the person purse his lips, leaving only a small opening. When exhaling, the lips block the flow of air and increase pressure in the collapsed airways. Since air is trapped behind obstructed airways, a person with emphysema may develop a "barrel chest" where the distance from the chest to the back becomes more pronounced. Other symptoms are cough and wheezing and decrease in tolerance for exercise.
When experiencing shortness of breath, decrease in the ability to exercise or perform daily activities, a persistent cough or wheezing, consult your doctor since these may be indicative of other diseases such as heart problem and other lung diseases. The doctor can also help in formulating a plan to quit smoking.
Watch out if the lips, tongue, fingernails, or skin turn blue since these indicate cyanosis or severe worsening of your lung condition. If these symptoms are seen, rush to the hospital's emergency department.
If the doctor suspects emphysema in a patient, he will recommend physical examination, with particular focus on breathing sounds, heart sounds, and general physical appearance. A number of tests may be ordered or performed such as chest x-ray, lung function tests, bloods tests. These tests will gauge the extent of the disease, the remaining lung function, and the presence of lung infections.
Looking at the chest x-ray results, the doctor can identify changes in the lungs that may indicate emphysema, detect presence of an infection or a mass in the lung (such as a tumor). The lung function tests will give specific information on how the lungs are working mechanically. In the lung function test, the patient is made to breathe into a tube that is connected to a computer or some other monitoring device. The lung function tests measure how much air the lungs can hold, how quickly the lungs can expel air during expiration, and how much reserve capacity the lungs have for increased demand such as during exercise.
The blood tests will check white blood cell count, which in turn indicates an acute