What Causes Emphysema? Understand The Factors That Increase The Risk

Emphysema is one of the chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases that causes damage to lung tissues. It develops gradually over a longer period and becomes severe when damage to the alveoli or air sacs gets critical.

The weakened inner walls of the air sacs cause bigger air sacs instead of small pores that reduce or prevent the movement of oxygen to the bloodstream and cause complications. Breathing difficulties, coughing, and chest disturbances are the major symptoms. Most of the patients get diagnosed with severe bronchitis along with emphysema.

Lack of timely medical intervention may complicate the plot. The disease is very common, and over 3 million people struggle with the condition in the United States. It is necessary to be well aware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of emphysema, as it is an easily preventable disease.

Symptoms And Warning Signs

Causes Of Emphysema

You may live with emphysema for years without showing or noticing any symptoms. Shortness of breath is the major symptom that develops gradually and can’t be distinguished all of a sudden. Usually, people notice breathing difficulties only when it stops them from doing their daily activities. Here are the major symptoms of emphysema:

Also Check: Diverticulitis Symptoms: How To Recognize The Condition Effectively?

  • Shorter breaths (while involved in physical activities)
  • Breathing difficulty.
  • Breathlessness in severe conditions
  • Chest infections.
  • Long-term coughs.
  • Expansion of the rib cage
  • Fatigue. 
  • Presence of mucus and blood stains while coughing.
  • Bronchitis at shorter intervals.
  • Sick feeling 
  • Chest tightness. 
  • Yellowish or greenish mucus.
  • Sleep disorder
  • Weight loss. 
  • Anxiety and depression.

Medical Intervention 

Early medical intervention prevents complications in emphysema. It is recommended to consult a doctor when you are noticing difficulty breathing. A discoloration of the lips and fingernails due to excretion is also a warning sign.

You will lose mental alertness and sharpness if you have emphysema. Doctors usually doubt emphysema if a patient is diagnosed with bronchitis. Spirometry, or lung function test, is the most common method of diagnosing emphysema. Breathing tests, chest X-rays, and CT scans are also helpful.

Causes Of Emphysema

Emphysema is considered a highly preventable disease, as smoking is the major cause. 90% of the patients affected by the condition are regular smokers. Smoking tobacco, marijuana, e-cigarettes, and vaping causes emphysema.

Exposure to the air pollutants that are present in the environment, such as chemical fumes and dust, is also considered a major cause. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is one of the factors that are inherited and naturally occur in the body that cause emphysema. Here, patients show a deficiency of a protein that maintains the elastic structures in the lungs.

Risk Factors Related To Emphysema

There are a few risk factors that need to be considered while discussing emphysema. As the major cause of emphysema is smoking, passive smokers are also at risk. Age is also another factor. Usually, smoking-related emphysema pops up between 40 and 70. The risk becomes high as age progresses.

Occupational exposure to pollutants such as fumes or dust is another factor that needs to be considered. It is compulsory to use all the safety and precautionary measures while working in such environments. Highly polluted areas are also a great concern here. People living in urban areas are most likely to develop emphysema.

Expected Complications

Being a disease that can’t be treated, we can expect many complications from emphysema. Severe damage to the lung tissues or lung collapse is one of the life-threatening complications of emphysema. The patients are more likely to develop heart diseases as the condition exerts pressure on the arteries that connect the lungs and heart.


Avoiding smoking or vaping is the first precaution you can take. You will have to decide on smoking the moment you notice breathing difficulties. The situation of getting exposed to cigar smoke should also be avoided.

Taking preventive measures while exposed to dust and fumes is another method of preventing the disease. Get health care providers help when you suspect any of the symptoms to prevent complications.

Curing Emphysema

Emphysema is an irreversible condition that damages the lung tissue. An experienced doctor can suggest treatment to reduce symptoms and improve life quality. Treatment can also prevent further damage to lung tissues.

Read More: Common Low Blood Pressure Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

About the Author

Nicole Carter is a dedicated and passionate nutritionist, committed to helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals through the power of proper nutrition. With a Bachelor's degree in Nutritional Science and years of practical experience.

Leave a Comment