Once emphysema is diagnosed, the most important next step is getting the smoker to stop. Enrollment in a comprehensive smoking cessation plan is vital, and includes a target quit date, relapse prevention, assessment of social support systems and advice on how to change ones lifestyle. In addition, prescriptions might include nicotine patches or gum, along with drugs like Zyban or Chantix, which may aid in cessation and curb withdrawal symptoms like depression, irritability or difficulty sleeping.
Beyond the smoking cessation, other emphysema treatments that focus on relieving symptoms and complications include:
- Enrollment in a pulmonary rehab program to provide general and nutritional education, breathing and exercise training
- Bronchodilators, which relieve coughing and shortness of breath by opening constricted airways.
- Corticosteroid drugs inhaled via aerosol sprays to relieve symptoms
- Supplemental oxygen to help increase low blood oxygen levels.
- Antibiotics to help relieve complications brought on by respiratory infections
- Inoculations against influenza and pneumonia
A more invasive intervention might be surgery, specifically lung volume reduction surgery. Here, a small wedge of damaged lung tissue is removed, creating extra space in the chest to help the remaining tissue and diaphragm work more effectively.
Severe sufferers may even require a lung transplant.