How is emphysema treated?

Treatment for emphysema begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. The goal of treatment is to improve breathing. Severe cases not responding to therapy or accompanied by serious bleeding may require surgical resection, or, in rare cases, lung transplant.

Treatment options for emphysema

There are several treatment options for emphysema including:

  • Bronchodilators to open the airways, such as albuterol (ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin), levalbuterol (Xopenex), and pirbuterol (Maxair)
  • Chest physical therapy (CPT) to help you cough up sputum
  • Inhaled cholinergic agents to improve symptoms (tiotropium, ipratropium)
  • Inhaled corticosteroids, such as Budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler, Pulmicort Respules), flunisolide (Aerobid Aerosol), fluticasone propionate (Flovent HFA), and triamcinolone acetonide (Azmacort Inhalation Aerosol)
  • Lung transplantation (selected patients)
  • Medication to help with smoking cessation, such as varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban)
  • Positive pressure ventilation (noninvasive)
  • Oxygen therapy if you have low blood oxygen levels
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation to improve shortness of breath with coughing and breathing exercises
  • Surgery to remove the most damaged portions of the lung (in selected patients)

What you can do to improve your emphysema

In addition to reducing your exposure to emphysema triggers, you can prevent or limit emphysema by:

  • Avoiding cold air
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Removing irritants in your home, such as fireplace fumes and smoke
  • Taking all medications as prescribed

What are the potential complications of emphysema?

Complications of untreated or poorly controlled emphysema can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of emphysema include:

  • Collapsed lung
  • Cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart)
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure


  1. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  2. Emphysema. American Lung Association.
  3. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy.Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  4. McDonough JE, Yuan R, Suzuki M, et al. Small-airway obstruction and emphysema in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1567.

What is emphysema?

Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that causes destruction of the air sacs in the lungs, resulting in reduced lung capacity and difficulty breathing. Emphysema is a common respiratory disorder in the United States: about 3.7 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with it. It is the third most common cause of death in American adults. People o... Read more about emphysemaintroduction


What are the symptoms of emphysema?

The primary symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, which may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms.

Common symptoms of emphysema

You may experience emphysema symptoms daily or just once in a while. Symptoms are usually worse during morning hours. At times, any of these emphysema symptoms can be severe:


What causes emphysema?

Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that causes destruction of the air sacs of the lungs, resulting in reduced lung capacity and difficulty breathing. The most common cause of emphysema is smoking. Rarely, nonsmokers develop emphysema as the result of an inherited deficiency in alpha-1 antitrypsin, ... Read more about emphysemacauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration

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