Emphysema – you do not want this!

Sorry I didn’t get to post yesterday… busy, busy, busy!

I want to talk about some of the illnesses associated with smoking to provide some motivation for you to go on and learn how to quit smoking. If you have read many of my other posts you will know that I refer to learning how to quit smoking quite frequently. The gist is that you need to learn how to do things before you can do them successfully. The simplest example is changing a car tyre. It might seem obvious to you how to do it but you have to undo the nuts before yojack the car!

Anyway, I digress.

Emphysema is the disease I want to talk about today and it is a horrible disease so this is worth learning about!

When you smoke, the particles in the tobacco smoke are inhaled into your lungs where they stick to the membranes throughout your lungs. The particles cause the lungs to be irritated and as a result, you body tries to expel them, using cillia. The cillia though, become overwhelmed by another reaction to the cigarette smoke and that is the overactivity of the mucus glands within your lungs.

With mucus all over the cillia, they lose their ability to function and as a result, the particles (toxins) in the cigarette smoke remain in the lungs. This is why cigarette smokers have black lungs as opposed to nice pink ones found in non-smokers.

Having been overwhelmed, the lung’s next response is to swell up. The inflammation is a natural response to the continued irritation. (Think what happens when you get an insect bite.) When your lungs are inflamed, they release a mixture of enzymes and other metabolic chemicals into the surrounding tissue, but most notably the enzyme elastase is released in large quantities. Elastase breaks down the elastic proteins in the lung tissue. This reduces the lung elasticity which in turn makes the lungs less ‘rubbery’ and less effective for inhaling and exhaling air.

The lung structure breaks down and the vast numbers of highly flexible alvioli (air sacks) are replaced with a holed tissue that is inflexible and useless for absorbing oxygen into the blood. Furthermore, the lack of elasticity within the lungs prevents the sufferer from being able to exhale the air in these holes. The result is stale air that remains in the lungs doing absolutley nothing for the sufferer.

Emphysema is diagnosed using spirometry, checking lung volume and exhaling capacity/speed. Sufferers in early stages will find themselves becoming breathless very easily and often hyperventilate. Hyperventilation over-oxygenates the blood and results in a reddening effect of the skin. Early emphysema sufferers are often referred to as ‘pink puffers’ reddened palour. This is in direct opposition to bronchitis sufferers who become blue from lack of oxygen in the blood (known as cyanosis from the Greek word ‘cyan’ to describe their colour).

Emphysema leaves it sufferers struggling for breath and they often have to purse their lips to improve the effectiveness of their breathing. It is totally incurable and can only be managed with the use of bronchodilators, steroid medications and oxygen. Sufferers are largly incapacitated not only because they become so breathless, but also because treatment with oxygen means carting a 20kg bottle of oxygen everywhere with them.

The single most important contributing factor in emphysema cases is smoking and emphysema effects about 1 in 20 smokers in later life. If you die from it, you suffocate to death over a period of years with no quality of life whatsoever.

I hope that helps motivate you to quit smoking.