6 Helpful Emphysema Treatments

Struggling to get air is frightening, and if you have emphysema, it may be a daily battle. Although emphysema can strike anyone, it’s primary cause is smoking. 

You can also get it if you’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke, fumes or dust at work, and pollutants, such as automotive exhaust or heating fuel.

Over time, breathing in these contaminants causes lung damage. Specifically, it damages the walls of your alveoli, the little air sacs inside your lungs. If they rupture, you end up with large pockets of air instead of small ones, drastically reducing the surface area in your lungs and, therefore, the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.

Emphysema also traps air in your lungs, because when your alveoli aren’t functioning properly, you can’t exhale thoroughly, meaning new air can’t enter, and you suddenly start gasping.

Here at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, our extensive team of experts specializes in serious lung conditions like emphysema and offers six highly effective treatments to keep you breathing freely.

1. Nutritional counseling

If you have emphysema, you’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to eat and breath at the same time. As a result, you may eat less and lose weight unintentionally. That, combined with the extra calories your lungs burn as they struggle to take in and push out air, can lead to a concerning drop in body mass.

To live with emphysema, you need to be healthy and strong, so eating the right food and enough of it is crucial. We counsel you about your nutritional needs and how to balance your diet and your emphysema symptoms.

2. Physical therapy

We can’t cure emphysema, but we can you rehabilitate your lungs and retrain them to breath more easily. Our physical therapists are specially trained to help you incorporate exercises that target your lungs and teach you to breathe more efficiently. 

3. Medication

To address your shortness of breath, we may recommend medications that relax and open up your airways, decreasing the resistance of airflow. These medications are called bronchodilators, and they can be short- or long-acting.

Short-acting bronchodilators are useful when you have an acute attack and need quick relief from your symptoms. You take long-acting bronchodilators on a regular schedule to help maintain relaxed airways.

4. Corticosteroids

Often used in tandem with bronchodilators, corticosteroids address the inflammation that often accompanies emphysema. During an acute attack, steroids can quickly reduce the inflammation in your airways and lungs to restore easy breathing. 

We may prescribe this medication for up to a week, but not longer. The side effects of prolonged use include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Mood changes
  • Edema (swelling of your hands and feet)
  • Water retention
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts

We carefully monitor your dosage of corticosteroids so you get the most benefit without risking your overall health.

5. Oxygen therapy

One of the common symptoms of emphysema, hypoxia occurs when you don’t have enough oxygen circulating throughout your body. If your blood saturation rate drops to 88% or lower, we treat you with oxygen therapy, where you breathe in extra oxygen through a small tube that fits in your nostrils. 

It may seem that because oxygen is natural and essential to your body, it must be completely safe, and in most cases it is. But too much oxygen can lead to excess carbon dioxide levels, which can be dangerous, so we monitor your intake carefully.

6. Surgery

As a last resort, we may determine that your emphysema is severe enough to warrant surgery. Our skilled surgeons specialize in a procedure called lung volume reduction surgery that removes the damaged tissue from your lungs and maximizes the function of your healthy lung tissue. 

Often, we can perform the procedure through a minimally invasive technique that requires only a couple of tiny incisions.

If you have emphysema and are struggling to breathe, there’s hope and help here at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates. 

We have locations in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, New York, as well as Englewood, New Jersey. To learn more about your emphysema treatment options, contact us today by phone or online and start breathing better soon.