What are the symptoms of pulmonary emphysema


Emphysema is a lung disease included in a set of conditions known as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) that progressively changes the physiology of the affected lung destroying the tissue that surrounds the airways. This condition is caused by the wear and tear suffered by the alveoli, air pockets that are responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. Due to this deterioration, the alveoli exchange less and less oxygen, resulting in increasingly severe respiratory distress.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary emphysema

This respiratory obstruction caused by emphysema can be mild, moderate or severe, and therefore it is important to go immediately to the health personnel. However, “how do I detect this lung disease?” you may ask. If you are looking for an answer to this question, keep reading the following article from where we explain what the symptoms of pulmonary emphysema are.

Types of pulmonary emphysema

As we have advanced, pulmonary emphysema is a disease that is included in COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and that is produced by the deterioration of the alveoli, which are excessively inflated because they cannot transform all carbon dioxide into oxygen and end up destroying the tissue of the lungs. In this way, the person who suffers from this disease has as its main symptom respiratory distress.

This is a chronic obstructive pulmonary type disease that can be classified into two types of pulmonary emphysema:

  • Centroacinar emphysema: in this type the problem is located in the upper part of the affected lung. In this case, emphysema causes the destruction of the tissue found in the bronchioles.
  • Panacinar emphysema: In this type, the condition is found at the bottom of the organ. In this case, emphysema destroys lung tissue in all areas where there is a gas exchange.

Emphysema is a chronic lung condition, since the lesions that occur in the tissues are irreversible.

Causes of pulmonary emphysema

There are several reasons why this disease appears. However, the following are the main causes of pulmonary emphysema:


Tobacco is the main cause of pulmonary emphysema. On the one hand, cigarette smoke favors the destruction of lung tissue and, in addition, also causes other symptoms such as irritation of the pathways. And on the other hand, smoke increases the secretion of mucous membranes and reduces the ability to eliminate them. Check out this other article to learn more about the consequences of smoking.

Low levels of the enzyme alpha-1 antitrypsin

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is an enzyme found in the lungs that has the function of protecting the alveoli and inhibiting the action of proteases. Those who have a deficiency of this molecule have an increased risk of developing Panacinar emphysema.

Genetic factors

Another risk factor for this disease is both genetic and hereditary factors:

  • Relatives of people affected by emphysema are more likely to have it.
  • Men are much more likely to develop this disease than women.
  • People with an older age are also more likely to have pulmonary emphysema.

Pollution and air pollution

Air pollution is also a cause of the development of this condition. In this case, pollution and smoke in the air work in the same way as tobacco smoke, degrading lung tissues. Learn more about this environmental problem and its effects on people in this other article on Consequences of pollution on health.

Main symptoms of pulmonary emphysema

Pulmonary emphysema is a disease that develops slowly so it can go through three states depending on its severity: mild, moderate and severe. Therefore, it is important to act as soon as possible to prevent the disease from getting worse.

But how can we detect pulmonary emphysema? Respiratory distress is the main symptom of this disease, although other signs may also appear if you suffer from emphysema. Below we list what are the main symptoms of pulmonary emphysema:

  • Basic respiratory symptoms: cough, excess mucus and wheezing when breathing.
  • Breathing with pursed lips: the patient has a hard time exhaling completely when trying to empty the air that is trapped. During this process the lips of the affected block the circulation of air and as a consequence, the pressure in the airways increases.
  • Chest in barrel or barrel: it is an anatomical symptom of this condition. The distance from the chest to the back is more pronounced or enlarged by the stagnant air in the airways.
  • Lack of oxygen and acute respiratory distress in severe cases.

When to see a doctor for pulmonary emphysema symptoms and treatments

Respiratory distress can be a confusing symptom, as it is usually a sign that occurs in different diseases, especially respiratory and cardiac diseases. However, if this lack of oxygen occurs over a long period, you will have to go to the doctor to diagnose your disease.

Treatments for pulmonary emphysema will depend on the state of the disease although specialists will usually use bronchodilator drugs, rehabilitation exercises and other medications such as antibiotics. On the other hand, if you are a smoker, the doctor will recommend that you immediately stop that habit and will also assign you some treatments to help you quit tobacco.


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