Are Non-Smokers At Risk for Developing Emphysema?

March 16, 2022
2 min read
Are Non-Smokers At Risk for Developing Emphysema?

You may think only smokers should be wary of emphysema. While smokers have a greater risk of developing it, it is still something that everyone should be educated about. Emphysema is a progressive lung condition that causes shortness of breath caused by damage to the small air sacs (alveoli). Air gets trapped in the alveoli, making it hard to exhale. This reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. It’s common knowledge that smoking cigarettes can cause emphysema, but can non-smokers develop it as well?

Causes of Emphysema

Smoking is the most common cause of emphysema, but many other things can also cause it. Exposure to chemicals, exposure to secondhand smoke, both indoor and outdoor pollution, and respiratory infections can also cause emphysema. Sometimes, a lack of an enzyme known as Alpha-1-antitrypsin can also cause emphysema, even if someone did not live near any environmental factors that could cause emphysema.

Symptoms of Emphysema

Emphysema causes a variety of symptoms that may include coughing, fatigue wheezing, shortness of breath, increased production of mucus, and chest tightness. However, you may have emphysema for years before noticing any signs or symptoms. The main symptom, shortness of breath, typically begins gradually. Since patients often avoid activities that cause shortness of breath, the shortness of breath may not present much of a problem. After a time, though, emphysema will cause shortness of breath even when resting.

Diagnosis of Emphysema

The diagnosis of emphysema cannot be made solely on symptoms. Your doctor will also require knowledge of your medical history, a physical examination, and tests. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans to get a better view of your lungs, lab tests to determine oxygen levels, and a lung function test. Your doctor may also recommend an ECG (electrocardiogram) to rule out heart disease.

Treatments for Emphysema

There are a number of treatments for emphysema. While it cannot be cured, there are many treatment plans that can help manage the disease and relieve symptoms. These may include:

  • Medications, such as bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and antibiotics
  • Therapy, such as pulmonary rehabilitation, nutrition therapy, and supplemental oxygen
  • Surgery, including lung volume reduction surgery and, in extreme cases, lung transplants

Depending on the severity and your lifestyle, your doctor may suggest a combination of these treatments.

Tips For Managing Emphysema

The best way to manage your emphysema (or reduce your risk of developing it) is to prevent it. Washing your hands, practicing good oral hygiene, and keeping your house free of dust are great ways to manage your emphysema. Keeping your breathing equipment clean and avoiding further exposure to irritants are also excellent ways to manage your emphysema.

Changing your lifestyle is also important. Quitting smoking, exercising regularly using a doctor recommended exercise guide, protecting yourself from cold air, preventing respiratory infections, and getting recommended vaccines are easy ways to protect yourself. 

When to See a Doctor

While not all are at risk of developing emphysema, it is certainly a diagnosis that should never be taken lightly. Persistent smoking is one of the most prevalent addictions across the world. Smoking can increase the chance of getting emphysema when combined with other factors such as genetics and lifestyle habits. It is something widespread enough that it is good to be aware of the causes for emphysema. If you have been experiencing shortness of breath for a prolonged period of time, especially if it’s interfering with your daily life, it’s time to see a doctor. At BASS Medical Group, your care is our top priority. Call (925) 350-4044 to schedule your appointment today.