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Mild emphysema is the early development of emphysemic symptoms associated with the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The condition is induced by the deterioration of the air sacs within one’s lungs. The presence of mild emphysema is indicative of a progressive condition that has no cure; therefore, treatment is centered on symptom management. Individuals exhibiting mild emphysemic symptoms are often encouraged to make positive lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, and may be given a variety of treatments to help slow disease progression, such as inhalation medications, oxygen treatments and, in severe cases, surgery.
The development of mild emphysemic symptoms generally presents in individuals who either currently smoke or have a history of smoking. There are a variety of diagnostic tests that may be utilized to confirm a diagnosis of emphysema. Usually, individuals are given a battery of pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to evaluate their lung functionality and capacity. Imaging tests, such as X-ray, may also be used to evaluate the condition of the individual’s lungs and upper respiratory system and to check for emphysemic signs, such as tissue deterioration or holes within the lung tissue. Additional tests used to assess one’s lung functionality may include a pulse oximetry and arterial blood gases analysis, which measure the lungs’ ability to absorb, circulate, and deliver oxygen throughout the body.
Signs and symptoms associated with mild emphysema develop gradually and worsen as the disease progresses. Individuals with mild emphysema will usually experience shortness of breath with excessive physical activity or strain. With time, the amount of physical activity it takes to impair one’s respiration will decrease until it occurs with little to no physical exertion at all. It is not uncommon for individuals with mild emphysema to wheeze or develop chest discomfort during episodes of compromised respiration. As the condition progresses, symptomatic individuals often develop a persistent cough and become easily fatigued.
In cases where symptom onset is associated with smoking, individuals with mild emphysema are encouraged to quit smoking as soon as possible. Supportive measures for smoking cessation are usually offered and generally include help with designing one’s approach for smoking cessation. Oftentimes, supplemental medications to ease the transition as well as family and social support play a crucial role in the success of one’s plan to quit.
Treatment for mild emphysema is generally centered on slowing the progression of the disease. Inhalation medications, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids, may help alleviate airway constriction allowing for easier respiration. Those with rapidly advancing symptoms may require the use of supplemental oxygen and antibiotic medications to ease breathing and prevent the development of a secondary condition, such as pneumonia. Advanced presentations of emphysemic symptoms may also necessitate the use of surgery to increase lung function and improve one’s ability to breathe. When traditional treatments have failed and respiration is severely compromised, the individual may be placed on a waiting list for lung transplantation if established criteria are met.
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