The goal of therapy for emphysema is to provide relief of symptoms, prevent complications and slow the progression of the disease. Quitting smoking is also essential for patients with emphysema, since continuing to use tobacco will only further damage the lungs. Our Tobacco Education Center offers classes as well as individual consultations with doctors trained in treating tobacco addiction. We help smokers maximize the likelihood of success in their efforts to quit.
Inhaled as aerosol sprays or taken orally, bronchodilator medications may help to relieve symptoms of emphysema by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs.
Inhaled as an aerosol spray, steroids can help relieve symptoms of emphysema associated with asthma and bronchitis. Over time, however, inhaled steroids can cause side effects, such as weakened bones, high blood pressure, diabetes and cataracts. It is important to discuss these side effects with your doctor before using steroids.
Antibiotics may be used to help fight respiratory infections common in people with emphysema, such as acute bronchitis, pneumonia and the flu.
Patients with emphysema should receive a flu shot annually and pneumonia shot every five to seven years to prevent infections.
As a patient's disease progresses, they may find it increasingly difficult to breathe on their own and may require supplemental oxygen. Oxygen comes in various forms and may be delivered with different devices, including those you can use at home.
Lung transplantation may be an option for some patients with emphysema. For others, lung volume reduction surgery, during which small wedges of damaged lung tissue are removed, may be recommended.
Patients with emphysema caused by an alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency may be given infusions of AAT to help slow the progression of lung damage.
An important part of emphysema treatment is pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes education, nutrition counseling, learning special breathing techniques, help with quitting smoking and starting an exercise regimen. Because people with emphysema are often physically limited, they may avoid any kind of physical activity. However, regular physical activity can actually improve a patient's health and wellbeing.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.