How to Identify Symptoms of Emphysema

Written by denise stern
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Emphysema is a chronic and progressive lung disorder that causes a drastic decrease in the ability of the lung to function. Grouped under the diagnosis of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), emphysema also causes a severe decrease in quality of life, and often requires that individuals receive a constant flow of oxygen. Though emphysema affects mainly the lungs in its early stages of development, it eventually encompasses multiple body systems. When left untreated, emphysema may cause complications like lung collapse or failure and congestive heart failure. Learn how to identify the symptoms of emphysema in order to prevent further or ongoing damage to your lungs.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Emphysema is difficult to detect in its early stages. Occasional shortness of breath or decreased lung capacity are often blamed on colds, allergies and fatigue or stress.

  2. 2

    Breathing becomes increasingly difficult as the months and years pass. Some individuals notice that breathing grows more difficult when they are engaged in physical activity, or when they assume certain positions while lying down or sitting.

  3. 3

    Wheezing is a common symptom of emphysema that is often confused with an allergic reaction or asthma.

  4. 4

    Individuals suffering from emphysema experience chronic lung infections or irritation of the bronchial tubes, which inhibit breathing and oxygen intake. Such symptoms may lead to an inadequate oxygen supply that results in a bluish tinge to the lips and fingernail beds, as well as lightheadedness and dizziness.

  5. 5

    A hacking cough is often present in the later stages of emphysema, and sputum is nearly always present. The gradual appearance of a barrel chest and even thickening of the fingertips are also associated with emphysema.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid smoking and exposure to irritants, pollution and chemicals. Avoid sudden temperature changes and avoid sudden bursts of activity that may initiate coughing spells.
  • Fifteen to 20 per cent of smokers develop emphysema later in life. Quit smoking! You may not repair damage already done, but you will prevent further damage from occuring!

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