• Treatment

    Smoking cessation is the most important and effective treatment. Only quitting smoking can stop the progression of lung damage once it has started. Medications used to improve breathing include bronchodilators (hand-held inhaler or nebulizer), diuretics, and corticosteroids. Antibiotics may be prescribed when respiratory infections occur. Influenza (flu) vaccines and Pneumovax (pneumonia vaccine) are recommended for people with emphysema.

    Low-flow oxygen can be used during exertion, continuously, or at night. Pulmonary rehabilitation can improve exercise tolerance and quality of life in the short-term. Lung transplantation is an option for patients with severe disease.

    Carefully selected patients may be eligible for lung reduction surgery. This procedure removes the damaged portions of the lung, which allows the normal portions of the lung to expand more fully and take advantage of increased aeration. When successful, those who undergo the surgery report improvement in walking distance and quality of life.

    Support Groups

    Contact the American Lung Association  for a support group near you.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    The outcome is better for patients with less damage to the lung. Prognosis is largely determined by initial shortness of breath, exercise tolerance, and results from lung function tests (spirometry). Death may occur from respiratory failure, pneumonia, or other complications.

    • Recurrent respiratory infections
    • Pulmonary hypertension
    • Cor pulmonale (enlargement and strain on the right side of the heart)
    • Erythrocytosis (increased red blood cell count)
    • Death

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of emphysema.

    If you know you have emphysema, call your health care provider if breathing difficulty, cough, sputum production or fever develops or changes.