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What Causes Emphysema?

May 24th, 2019

By: Linda Kunicki

Emphysema is a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe. About 3.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with emphysema in a year. Over 7,000 people per year die because of emphysema. If your aging relative has emphysema, knowing more about the condition can improve your skills as a family caregiver. 

Emphysema Overview

Inside the lungs are air sacs called alveoli. Emphysema affects the alveoli, causing the walls inside them to break. When that happens, instead of having multiple small air sacs with lots of surface area to absorb oxygenated blood, there are larger spaces and less surface area. These damaged alveoli don’t work properly when the older adult breathes out, so they aren’t able to expel all of the old air. As a result, there’s less room for fresh air to get in.

When a person has emphysema, they are more likely to also have chronic bronchitis. Bronchitis causes inflammation in the airways. This can cause the senior to develop a persistent cough.

It’s possible for someone to have emphysema for years without knowing it. The primary symptom of the condition is shortness of breath, but it happens gradually, so it may go unnoticed at first. Most people aren’t aware of it until it starts to make doing daily activities difficult. Eventually, they may even feel short of breath when they are resting.

Causes of Emphysema

Emphysema is usually caused by being exposed for a long period of time to substances that irritate the lungs. Some of these substances are:

  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Marijuana smoke.
  • Air pollution.
  • Dust and fumes from chemicals.

There are also some risk factors that can increase the chances of someone getting emphysema, such as:

  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes is one of the major risk factors for developing emphysema. Though less common, it is also possible to develop the condition from smoking pipes and cigars. The longer a person smokes, the more their chances increase.
  • Age: Most people develop symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Secondhand Smoke: Being around someone who smokes also increases the risk.
  • Occupational Exposure: Breathing in chemicals and dust from grain, wood, mining products, etc. may lead to emphysema.
  • Air Pollution: Breathing in pollutants, both indoor and outdoor, increases the risk.

If your older family member has emphysema, a home care provider can help them to live more comfortably. Home care providers can remind them when it is time to take medications that help manage symptoms. Home care providers can also assist with tasks around the house that are difficult to accomplish because of shortness of breath. And, if the older adult uses supplemental oxygen, a home care provider can ensure they are using it correctly and safely.

IF YOU OR AN AGING LOVED ONE ARE CONSIDERING HOME CARE SERVICES IN RIVERSIDE, IL, PLEASE CONTACT THE CARING STAFF AT BRIGHTSTAR CARE LA GRANGE. CALL TODAY: 708-551-2500.