Emphysema is a disorder that causes the destruction of the alveoli, the grape-like clusters of air sacs at the end of the smallest airways (the bronchioles) in the lung. Normally, the walls of the alveoli become inflamed and damaged. In time they lose their elasticity and pockets of dead air (called bullae) form in the injured areas. These pockets narrow the airways of the lungs which traps air and interferes with the normal working, making breathing out more difficult. However, the ability to breathe in is not affected by the late stages of the disease. Also, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels remain normal. There is no cure for emphysema, but there are multiple treatments that help alleviate the symptoms and give relief to the patient. Mentioned below are a few treatments:
- Anticholinergic Agents: These help in relaxing the bronchial muscles and are generally inhaled. The agents act as bronchodilators and though they do not have much of an effect on lung function, it does help in improving the breathlessness, ability to exercise and quality in life.
- Beta2-Agonists: In some chronic cases of emphysema the doctors sometimes prescribe beta2-agonists in place of anticholinergic. There are short-acting (are the primary medications for most Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease aka COPD patients) and long-acting beta2-agonists (used as long-term therapy).
- Corticosteroids: These are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. They can either be taken orally or by inhaling. The oral medication is used to treat exacerbations and helps in the speedy recovery and reduction in hospital stay. The oral medication should not be used as a stable medication for long term. However, the inhalants are used as the mainstay medication. There are positive results seen in the first six months of usage but sometimes the lung health may decline after the six months.
- Theophylline and other Methylxanthines: Methylxanthines are used for patients with chronic exacerbations and the other medications do not have the required effect. These agents have modest effects on the lungs but do not improve the lung function too much.
There are many more medications available based on the requirement. The patient must talk to their doctors and figure out the best course of medication. One must remember that there is no cure for emphysema but with the right medication, it makes it easier to alleviate the symptoms.