Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more commonly known as COPD, and is typically associated with long term exposure to toxic chemicals, including tobacco smoke. Emphysema is most commonly characterized by a diminished elasticity in the lung's tissue. This diminished elasticity causes the airways to collapse during exhalation and air becomes trapped in the lungs. Common symptoms are shortness of breath during even minor physical exertion, hyperventilating, and an expanded chest.
Emphysema is irreversible and degenerative, but is treatable. As most emphysema is found in smokers, the most important factor in slowing its progression is smoking cessation and the avoidance of all respiratory irritants, including secondhand smoke. Rehabilitation of the patient's pulmonary system can dramatically improve quality of life and lung function. Supplemental oxygen is frequently used to treat emphysema on a controlled flow. These portable oxygen systems have been shown to improve patient mobility and extend life. Other medications include bronchodilators or inhalers to expand airway flow in emphysema patients.
The only known cure for emphysema is a lung transplant, though few patients are healthy enough to undergo such extensive surgery. Life expectancy among patients of emphysema is often only 2-3 years and may be complicated by diagnosis of lung cancer or other irreversible respiratory conditions. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are typically not immediately distinguishable but are usually classified in tandem as varying degrees of COPD.