Emphysema

A serious lung disease where the alveoli and the narrow passages leading to these air sacs become permanently swollen with air.

What to look for

Typical symptoms of emphysema include:

  • breathlessness, worsening over the years.

  • a chronic, mild cough, sometimes accompanied by a small amount of phlegm brought on by the slightest exertion.

  • chewing and swallowing may be hard

  • in severe cases a ‘barrel shaped’ chest.

Emphysema is a potentially fatal lung disease and is characterised by a shortness of breath followed by coughing. Emphysema is most often caused by excessive and heavy smoking.

There is no cure for this disease but seeing a Doctor may be able to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

Emphysema results when the alveoli the tiny air sacs and the narrow passages leading to them become enlarged. These sacs are responsible for taking oxygen to the bloodstream and drawing out carbon dioxide waste. But when the lungs' airways become constricted or damaged, the lung tissues lose their elasticity and become damaged and breathing becomes difficult. This is because the damage prevents the lungs from supplying the blood with enough oxygen .

This disease is most common in heavy smokers usually over 40 years of age.

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Causes

The most common cause of emphysema is heavy, long-term smoking. Cigarette smoke is thought to attack the lung tissue. Smoking also has the effect of weakening the walls of the lungs airways, causing them to collapse on exhalation, trapping stale air. Smoking also causes chronic bronchitis and this in turn usually makes the emphysema worse.

Smoking causes the tiny cells called cilia to become debilitated and dysfunctional. Their job is to rid the lungs of excess mucus and other debris. Clogged with mucus, the lungs are then susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.

Traditional Treatment

Unfortunately there is no treatment yet that will give you a new set of healthy and unaffected lungs. However you can do some things that will help the symptoms and avoid the disease becoming worse.

You must consult a doctor if you have any of the above listed symptoms and continue to see him or her regularly. Your doctor may show you the correct ways to breath with this affliction.

Quitting smoking immediately and avoiding any areas where there is cigarette smoke is a vitally important step.

Start and maintain a low-impact exercise regime such as walking or swimming.

In severe cases of emphysema, at-home oxygen therapy may be necessary; In some other serious cases, surgery may be an option.

Alternative/Natural Treatments

You must never stop seeing your doctor when you have this illness. However alternative therapies often relieve your symptoms and discomfort.

Aromatherapy -  This has been very successful in the treatment of emphysema. Popular essential oils for this ailment are Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), Lavender (Lavandula officinalis), Pine (Pinus sylvestris), and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).

Chinese Herbs -  The Chinese herb Ephedra (Ephedra sinica), also called Ma Huang, is a potent bronchodilator. This herb does have side effects and should only be taken under the supervision of a Professional.

Herbal Therapies - A number of herbs act as expectorants and may be appropriate in the treatment of emphysema.

Elecampane (Inula helenium), for example, is believed to help clear excess mucus from the lungs.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) tea is recommended for soothing the mucous membranes.

Other herbs that may help relieve shortness of breath include grindelia (Grindelia spp.), Euphorbia pilulifera, Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) Bark, Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), and Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum).

Homoeopathy - To treat emphysema, a Homoeopath might recommend Antimonium Tartaricum for wheezing and congestion,

For symptoms that worsen on damp days, in stuffy rooms, or early in the morning, Ammonium carbonicum.

For symptoms that grow worse at night or in cold air and drafts, Hepar sulphuris.

Dietary Considerations

Some Health Professionals recommend avoiding foods that cause excess mucus production, such as dairy products, processed foods, and white flour products. Also eat plenty of garlic.

Personal Care

Inhaling steam can help loosen phlegm in your lungs. First, fill a sink with boiling water. Keeping your eyes closed, drape a towel over your head and inhale the steam for two to five minutes. To further ease breathing and help relieve nasal congestion, try adding a few drops of one or more essential oils to the hot water.

Prevention

Stop smoking immediately.

Although there is no cure for emphysema, you can practice some simple exercises and breathing techniques that will help you cope with the disease. See a Yoga specialist and your doctor.

When to seek further professional advice

  • you cough up dark coloured or thick mucus.

  • you have a lingering, mild cough

  • you begin to lose weight and you are not trying to

  • you regularly become breathless after simple activities.


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