What is Emphysema?
If you’ve heard of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases), the term used to refer to a host of lung diseases that impair a person’s breathing capacity over time, then you must have heard of emphysema. Bronchitis and Emphysema make it to the two widely prevalent types of COPD diseases. While COPD is caused due to a variety of reasons that weaken the patient’s lungs, such thickening of the walls that results in airway blockage or even excessive mucus production that leads to blockage. In a similar way, Emphysema is due to the weakening of a person’s alveoli sacs. In Emphysema, the exhalation process, in particular, becomes difficult because of damage to the alveoli sacs and this condition tends worsens over time.
How is Emphysema caused?
Alveoli sacs are tiny airbags in the lungs that are the destinations for the air we inhale. In patients suffering from Emphysema, the lung tissues around the alveoli sacs get impaired. Tissues in the bronchioles (small openings in the alveoli sacs) weaken over time and lose their elasticity. Normally, when a person breathes in, these tissues are stretched and on exhalation, the tissues relax. Since in Emphysema, the patient’s lungs lose their elastic property, the tissues that are stretched at the time of inhalation are not able to relax properly at the time of exhalation. Hence, the air that is breathed in cannot exit the alveoli sacs which result in loss of breath and difficulty in breathing in the patient. Another reason why Emphysema is dangerous is that, apart from lung tissues, it also impacts the blood capillaries and thus affects the blood flow rate as well. The leading cause of Emphysema aligns with the leading cause of COPD itself, which is, smoking. The bad news is that smoking in any form, be it active or passive, contributes equally to emphysema. The act of smoking is what causes gradual damage to the lung tissues.
According to data on healthline.com, 4.7 million people in the USA had been diagnosed with emphysema in the year 2011. While gender is not a factor that influences its manifestation, women are slightly on the higher side compared to men. Out of these 4.7 million people, 2.5 million were women. Also, it was found that a whopping 90% of these patients were on the other side of 45 years of age.
Emphysema, along with other COPD diseases, is responsible for 5% of deaths annually globally and emphysema is a major contributor to this 5%. Emphysema can cause chronic coughing and shortening of breath during demanding physical activities such as climbing a flight of stairs or exercising. Apart from other problems like loss of appetite, people have been found to develop psychological problems such as depression and sleeplessness. The stress caused due to emphysema can also lead to a poor sex life. What makes emphysema dangerous is that its first impression may seem like an innocent cough or shortage of breath and passed off as signs of normal aging. But note that emphysema is a progressive disease, meaning there is no way it can get cured all by itself, it tends to worsen with time. Symptoms like fatigue, chronic cough, a gripping, tightening feeling in the chest, barrel chest and clubbing of the fingers may accompany emphysema.
Treatments and Cure
There is no way in which the damaged tissues in the lungs can be absolutely repaired. But in a progressive manner, various measures are used to provide the maximum relief and assistance to the patients. The first step is to quit smoking. Doctors suggest changes in food habits and certain antibiotics curb diseases that the onset of emphysema can bring along. Patients also practice breathing exercises and yoga therapy. However, as a supplement, oxygen concentrators come as a boon to emphysema patients.
Oxygen Concentrators and Emphysema
Modern day oxygen concentrators are giving happy smiles to patients of emphysema and other COPD diseases for a variety of reasons. For one, portable oxygen concentrators accompany you everywhere. These are lightweight units and most airlines allow them onboard. Patients can easily carry them and enjoy a walk in the park. Secondly, oxygen concentrators are evolving, in both size and technology. Modern day oxygen concentrators are capable of adjusting the flow of oxygen by recognizing the patients’ breathing patterns and respiration rates. Hence, when you are exercising and your body starts demanding a higher supply of oxygen, your concentrator can sense it and adjust to the same! You can also sleep in peace because of the relevant oxygen being delivered to you right on time. The increase in demand for oxygen in the blood is easily satisfied by the oxygen concentrator delivering oxygen to the patient through a nasal cannula.
All the above benefits eventually lead a to better mental health and improved mood in the patient. Unlike the huge, bulky oxygen tanks of yesteryear, oxygen concentrators deliver an unlimited supply of oxygen because it takes the air around itself as input and after removing nitrogen from it, deliver oxygen concentrated air as the output. Also, periodically purchasing oxygen tanks leads to a dent in the patients’ pocket. Concentrators are a one-time purchase. There is no danger of fire emanating from an air filled with oxygen, as in the case of oxygen tanks if it starts leaking because oxygen concentrators are controlled devices releasing oxygen only after assessing the patients’ requirements.
In fact, a study published in the U.S National Library of Medicine has proved that oxygen therapy indeed reduces breathlessness and tiredness in patients with breathing problems. All it takes is a prescription from your doctor and the oxygen concentrator will be delivered right to your doorstep, complete with the instructions on how to use it.
The impact of diseases such as emphysema is not only physical, but also mental and psychological. Oxygen concentrators are highly prescribed by doctors as an aide to emphysema patients by ensuring a continuous, portable, regulated and cost-effective supply of oxygen to satisfy their increased oxygen needs.