The first sign of emphysema is the feeling of not being able to get enough air. In the early stages, shortness of breath (dyspnea) may only be noticeable when you are doing things. In later stages, you may struggle for air even when sitting quietly or lying down.
Other symptoms include:
- A mild but constant cough
- Continuous production of mucus or phlegm
- Feeling tired, due to less oxygen getting to the body
- Poor appetite. Eating becomes more of a strain because it takes more breath.
- Weight loss, caused by less interest in eating
Causes and Risk Factors
Eighty percent of all emphysema is caused by smoking (including cigarettes, cigars and pipes)..Smoke damages the tiny hairs in the bronchial tubes called cilia, which keep irritating substances and germs out of air passages. When air passages are not regularly cleaned out, they become inflamed and the fibers break down.
Other causes of emphysema are:
- Air pollution, indoors and outdoors
- Chemical fumes found in certain workplaces
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD), a genetic condition, which results in the lack of a lung-protecting protein.
- Secondhand smoke
People over 40 years old who have smoked for long periods of their life are at high risk for the condition. People with emphysema are more likely to have other lung diseases, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and lung cancer.