The signs of emphysema can vary from person to person and are usually mild in the beginning, progressing to more severe. Some of the more common signs of emphysema include tightness in the chest, wheezing, short of breath, chronic coughing, fatigue and weight loss. A few of these symptoms are similar to other conditions, but all are indicators of a potential problem in the lungs. A consultation with a doctor is always the best course of action if these symptoms present themselves.
Emphysema limits the flow of air from the lungs. As the emphysema progresses, it stretches the air sacs, or alveoli, at the end of the small airways, the bronchioles. The bronchioles can collapse, and the air sacs fill with air and can eventually burst. This makes breathing difficult and sufficient oxygen cannot get into the bloodstream through the lungs, causing two more common signs of emphysema, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Blue fingernails, coughing up phlegm that is yellowish or greenish, weight loss, shortness of breath from mild activities or exercise, or becoming tired easily are other signs of emphysema. A person should see a doctor when experiencing these types of symptoms. Emphysema can complicate other conditions if left untreated.
Signs of emphysema aren't as prevalent in the early stages. A person might only notice feeling a little more winded than before after a usual activity. Typically, this condition progresses slowly and often is not noticed until it has reached later stages. Most symptoms seem to appear around between the ages of 40 and 60.
The leading cause of emphysema is smoking. Smoking and emphysema are a volatile combination. If someone is already showing signs of emphysema, smoking will accelerate the condition much more quickly. Aside from smoking, a very small percentage of people develop emphysema from a protein deficiency that reduces elasticity in the airways.
Bronchodilators, inhaled steroids and supplemental oxygen can all be used to treat emphysema. Smokers diagnosed with emphysema should quit smoking immediately to stop the progression. Reducing the exposure to lung irritants can also help slow the development of the disease. The severity of respiratory infections increases in those with emphysema. Flu or pneumonia vaccinations may be helpful in preventing illness.
While the damage from emphysema cannot be reversed, treatments can alleviate some of the symptoms. A normal life expectancy is possible for people with mild emphysema who quit smoking. Those with severe emphysema can greatly improve their prognosis by adopting a healthier lifestyle.