What is emphysema?


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Meg Hayes answered
Basically, emphysema is a disease of the lungs where the tissues in the lungs that are necessary to support the shape and function of the lungs have been destroyed. Emphysema is a life threatening condition and unfortunately, there is no cure for it, only treatment.

  • What is emphysema?
Inside your lungs are hundreds of small alveoli. On diagrams of your lungs they look like small bunches of grapes, but they are in fact tiny air sacs that are located on the ends of tubes in your lungs called bronchioles. When the bronchioles and alveoli become damaged, a person will experience shortness of breath. This is emphysema.

  • What are the causes of emphysema?
Unfortunately, the number one cause of emphysema is smoking cigarettes. The harmful smoke and chemicals that are present in cigarettes damage and eventually destroys the lung's tissue. This causes the alveoli to break down and because these are responsible for expelling air out of the lungs, a person experiences shortness of breath.

Damaged lung tissue can also be caused by a protein alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. This protein strengthens the lungs by increasing their elasticity and so helping them to maintain their structure. A deficiency of this protein can be inherited, but is also made worse by air pollution and cigarette smoke.

If you are particularly prone to getting lung infections or if you suffer from asthma then you may also be at risk of developing emphysema. Both of these conditions have an effect the elasticity of the lung's tissue, so the risk of damage to the alveoli increases.

The age of a person can also put them at risk of emphysema as the difficulty breathing that is often associated with age is commonly seen in elderly people. However, not all people will definitely get emphysema. Ways to try and prevent emphysema include avoiding cigarettes and practice deep breathing exercises to delay the onset of the condition.

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