Emphysema is a disease condition in which the flow of air in the airways is obstructed. It is now regarded as one of the disease components of COPD in addition to chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is known for causing characteristic shortness of breath in people with this disease.
How does this come about? Over some time, the air sacs in the lungs known as the alveoli begin to disintegrate. These air sacs are tiny structures where the exchange of respiratory gases occurs. The respiratory gases exchanged there are oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Eventually, these air sacs disintegrate completely and coalesce together to form much bigger sacs. Thus, the respiratory exchange function becomes difficult for the lungs. Air also becomes easily held back in the lungs. This is due to the breakdown of the wall of the alveoli, preventing the escape of gases from this confinement. The air that accumulates in the lungs makes the chest to have a characteristic shape called “barrel chest” in the medical literature.
With the damage done to the alveoli, the surface area of the lungs is greatly reduced. Thus, oxygen would not enter the bloodstream as it ought to.
Emphysema gradually develops in an individual. Therefore, it could be present in the lungs for several years without manifesting any symptoms. The symptoms when they do appear, worsen with time. They include: