Breathing Easier: Top 10 Treatments for Emphysema

The walls between many of your air sacs in the lungs are damaged due to the impact of emphysema. This can make sacs become sloppy and lose their shape. Instead of many tiny air sacs, fewer and larger ones can result from the damage that can destroy the walls of the air sacs. So your lungs will find it difficult to move carbon dioxide and oxygen into your body. 

People who would most likely have emphysema continue to smoke due to their genetics, and even those prone to long-term exposure to other lung irritants. Even people who would reach the age of 40 can experience the symptoms of emphysema. Aside from quitting smoking, finding and trying effective treatments to prevent severe conditions is important. With that being said, here are 10 remedies that can help you to fight emphysema:


According to the University of California San Francisco Health, to prevent infections, patients with emphysema should receive, every five to seven years, a flu and pneumonia shot. Vaccines can reduce the risks of respiratory infections, which can worsen the symptoms of emphysema by acting as preventive measures. People with emphysema can be more susceptible to infections such as pneumonia and influenza when they have weakened lungs.

These infections can cause damage and inflammation to the lungs, which can worsen the symptoms of emphysema. Which is why people with emphysema are recommended to take annual flu shots and pneumonia vaccines to prevent complications and reduce respiratory infections. 

Lung transplant

Lung transplantation is proven effective for patients who are failing optimal therapy due to end-stage lung disease, according to research published in the Annals of Translational Medicine. The most common indication for long adult transportation is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema). Patients with emphysema or COPD often experience limitations in doing physical activities. 

Doctors might recommend a lung transplant when they can’t improve emphysema or COPD with standard measures. People with emphysema may have single-lung transplantation. This will allow them to move up higher on the list than someone who will have to wait for the availability of two donor lungs. However, it’s still vital for you to understand the potential risks aside from the benefits of lung transplant surgery. To determine if you’re a good candidate for a lung transplant, you can talk to your pulmonologist. 

Pulmonary rehabilitation

If you have certain lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, and emphysema or COPD, your doctor may recommend taking pulmonary rehabilitation. This treatment will help you breathe easier and improve your quality of life. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, pulmonary rehabilitation is a supervised medical program to help people with lung diseases breathe and live better. 

You can get several benefits from pulmonary rehabilitation, like reducing symptoms of anxiety or depression, making it easier to manage routine activities, and helping you gain strength. Additionally, you may even learn specific breathing techniques like yoga breathing, pursed lip breathing, and breathing with computer-aided feedback. However, it’s also important to be aware of its potential risks, such as injuries to your bones and muscles due to physical activity during the program.

Smoking cessation

Quitting smoking is one of the most important single steps you can take if you’ve been diagnosed with emphysema or COPD, according to the National Emphysema Foundation. By quitting smoking, this can slow down the progression of the disease. Emphysema can destroy lung tissue due to its exposure to toxic cigarette smoke. 

Coughing and breathing problems usually worsen as the disease progresses. You can even experience weight loss due to an increased effort required to breathe later in the condition. When you stop smoking, you’ll be able to breathe more easily; your lung function will improve, and you will have an increased life expectancy. But it’s still important to take medications to treat emphysema. The condition can still progress over time, even with smoking cessation, due to its incurable and chronic nature.

Oxygen therapy

Aside from oxygen therapy having the ability to extend someone’s life, it helps people with emphysema breathe more easily. For you to maintain 90% of blood oxygen saturation or more, doctors may recommend oxygen therapy. This type of treatment can be continuous or intermittent. For those whose oxygen saturation is below 88%, doctors may recommend continuous therapy. While for people whose oxygen levels only drop in particular situations like exercises, intermittent therapy may be beneficial.

According to an older study, people will live longer with oxygen therapy when they have low blood oxygen levels. Oxygen therapy can help reduce several symptoms of emphysema, such as fatigue, breathlessness, and confusion. There are several options for oxygen therapy that you can take, like an oxygen-conserving device, oxygen concentrator, and compressed oxygen. 


Bronchodilators are used on a regular schedule that can open your airways and keep them open. Your doctor may prescribe a long-acting inhaled bronchodilator if you have advanced emphysema. You can take bronchodilators as tablets, inhalers, or nebulizer solutions. However, side effects such as vomiting, dry mouth, nausea, and hyperactivity may occur. 

They can relieve symptoms by making the air passages wider and relaxing the muscles in the lungs. Short-acting beta-agonists are a form of bronchodilator that your doctor may prescribe to control your symptoms. They will start to function within 3 to 5 minutes and can last for 4 to 6 hours. 

PDE-4 Inhibitors

Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE-4) inhibitors are newer oral drugs that are proven to be effective in treating emphysema or COPD. According to several clinical trials, the PDE-4 drug Roflumilast has improved lung function when used with bronchodilator therapy. It can also lead to fewer flare-ups, as found in some studies. 

Additionally, PDE-4 inhibits the Phosphodiesterase-4 enzyme, which is involved in producing inflammatory mediators in your lungs. These medications can improve the airflow of the lungs by reducing inflammation. Moreover, these medications can also relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. 

Protein therapy

According to the University of California San Francisco, patients with emphysema as a cause of an alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency can receive help to slow the progression of lung damage by giving infusions of AAT. Protein therapy involves administering peptides or proteins to regulate biological processes in the body. 

Produced by the liver, AAT is a protein that can help protect the lungs from damage since it can neutralize enzymes that can break down the lung tissue. Protein therapy with AAT can supplement missing proteins and slows down the progression of emphysema in the body. 


According to the American Lung Association, Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) is a surgery that helps people with severe emphysema affecting the upper lung lobes. While this may not be a cure, it can improve your quality of life and exercise capacity. To remove about 30% of the most diseased lung tissues is the goal of the surgery.

This surgery will allow the remaining part of the healthier lungs to work better while reducing the size of the lungs. Also, LVRS can enable you to breathe more efficiently by helping the diaphragm to return to its normal shape. The success of the surgery can be seen to help improve lung capacity, breathing ability, and overall quality of life.


This treatment effectively reduces emphysema symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Acetylcysteine is the most commonly used mucolytic for emphysema and is often taken by inhalation. Acetylcysteine breaks down what holds mucus together, known as disulfide bonds, making it easier to clear from the lungs.

Acetylcysteine also has antioxidant properties that can help reduce lung inflammation. Dornase alfa and hypertonic saline are other mucolytics that may be used for emphysema. But it’s important to keep in mind that mucolytics may not be suitable for everyone since they can have side effects such as bronchoconstriction, coughing, and throat irritation.  


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