Emphysema – what it is and what causes it

When it comes to Emphysema not everyone is clear as to what it actually is and what causes it. Emphysema is a progressive lung disease that results in shortness of breath which in turn reduces your overall capacity for physical activity.

Emphysema is caused by damage that occurs to the small air sacs and small airways in your lungs. It is this damage that obstructs your airflow when you breathe out. At its most advanced stage, emphysema consumes a great deal of energy making the simple task of breathing much more difficult. This is a condition that develops over a period of years and you may not experience any symptoms of shortness of breath until the damage to your lungs has occurred. The emphysema treatment helps to relieve you of those symptoms of shortness of breath and helps avoid complications that can occur.

Causes of emphysema

When you inhale, air travels to your lungs through two major airways off the wind pipe (trachea) called bronchi. Inside your lungs, the bronchi subdivide like the roots of a tree into a million smaller airways (bronchioles) that finally end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). You have about 300 million air sacs in each lung. Within the walls of the air sacs are tiny blood vessels (capillaries) where oxygen is added to your blood and carbon dioxide — a waste product of metabolism — is removed. The air sac walls also contain elastic fibres that help the very small airways leading to the air sacs expand like small balloons when you breathe.

With emphysema, the walls of the alveoli are damaged by inflammation. Alveoli can lose their natural elasticity, become overstretched and eventually rupture.  Several adjacent alveoli may also rupture, forming one large space instead of many small ones.

Inflammation destroys these fragile walls of the air sacs, causing them to lose their elasticity. As a result, the bronchioles collapse, and air becomes trapped in the air sacs, which overstretches them and interferes with your ability to exhale. In time, this overstretching may cause several air sacs to rupture, forming one larger air space instead of many small ones. Because the larger, less elastic sacs aren't able to force air completely out of your lungs when you exhale, you have to breathe harder to take in enough oxygen and to eliminate carbon dioxide.

The most common cause of this condition is cigarette smoke. It is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, but cigar and pipe smokers also are susceptible, and the risk for all types of smokers increases with the number of years and amount of tobacco smoked. As soon as cigarette smoke reaches the bronchial tubes that is when the damage begins.

Bronchial tubes are lined with microscopic hairs which sweep away irritants and germs from the airways. However as soon as the smoke reaches these microscopic hairs the sweeping movement is paralyzed and irritants remain in the bronchial tubes and then infiltrate the alveoli, inflame the tissue and break down the elastic fibres.

Emphysema is a condition that can seriously hinder your physical activity, particularly if you are fond of sports. If you are a tennis player then your tennis performance can be drastically affected by emphysema. However, with emphysema treatment you can continue to breathe with ease and participate in your physical sports activity.