What is Emphysema?

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what is emphysema

Emphysema is a chronic respiratory and lung condition that affects roughly 3 million Americans. It is one of the respiratory conditions classified as COPD and is most common among men between the ages of 50 and 70. While it is a progressive illness without a cure, it is entirely preventable. Understanding the cause, stages and treatment of emphysema gives anyone with a diagnosis the best information for making the best decisions about their health. 

What Is Emphysema?

Emphysema is a respiratory illness in which the air sacs, or the alveoli, of the lungs become damaged. With this type of damage, the bronchial tubes collapse, trapping air inside of the lungs. However, the damaged air sacs prevent proper amounts of oxygen from entering the bloodstream. Emphysema causes shortness of breath, low blood oxygen levels and even reduces mental alertness.

What Are the Causes of Emphysema?

One of the most common causes of emphysema is smoking. Long-term exposure to tobacco gradually causes damage to the lungs in the form of irritated airways, excessive mucus production and damaged lung tissue. For most individuals, the cessation or avoidance of smoking will prevent the onset of this chronic lung disease.

While smoking is regarded as the primary cause for most emphysema patients, the disease can also begin with extended exposure to air pollution and airborne irritants within various environments.

What Are The 4 Stages of Emphysema?

The medical community uses the GOLD system to measure a patient’s ability to exhale air volume. GOLD stands for the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, and these standards are used to determine emphysema staging.

  • Stage 1 Emphysema: 80% air volume exhaled (mild)
  • Stage 2 Emphysema: 50-80% air volume exhaled (moderate)
  • Stage3 Emphysema: 30-50% air volume exhaled (severe)
  • Stage 4 Emphysema: Less than 30% air volume exhaled (very severe)

Another method of determining severity and best course of treatment is referred to as the BODE method. This examines a patient’s body mass index, lung obstruction, breathlessness, and exercise capacity.

How to Diagnose Emphysema?

Doctors will look for the key signs of emphysema during an office visit:

  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Wheezing and general difficulty breathing
  • Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Blue-tinged lips

Beyond the tell-tale signs and blood oxygen testing, a doctor may also conduct a pulmonary function test, which determines your air volume capacity while breathing. In advanced cases, X-rays and CT scans will also reveal lung damage.

How Can Oxygen Therapy Work to Treat Emphysema?

Oxygen therapy is one form of treatment for emphysema. By providing more oxygen to the lungs, oxygen therapy can increase blood oxygen saturation throughout the body. While not a cure, oxygen therapy helps improve breathing and reduces the debilitating symptoms of emphysema. For anyone with the disease, oxygen therapy can help you lead a more normal life. 

If you have been diagnosed with emphysema and prescribed oxygen therapy, oxygen concentrators are a suitable option for treatment. You can find both portable and home oxygen concentrators at a low price at The Oxygen Concentrator Supplies Shop. Explore your options with our expert customer care team via phone at 888.941.1688 or via email at contact@oxygenconcentratorsupplies.com.


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Emphysema. Accessed March 2021.