Medications known as bronchodilators help relax narrowed airways to reduce emphysema symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids and oxygen therapy are also common options for improving impaired breathing, according to Medical News Today. Doctors advise patients to stop smoking and only recommend surgery or lung transplants to treat severe tissue and organ damage.
As of 2015, researchers haven't found a cure for emphysema, and the main goal of treatment is slowing down the progressive discomfort caused by shortness of breath, according to Mayo Clinic. While doctors often prescribe corticosteroid sprays, using these aerosols for extended periods may lead to weakened bones and increase susceptibility to other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. For long-term symptom control, doctors may recommend pulmonary therapy, which involves breathing techniques that help individuals manage their lung capacity and exercise safely. Patients who suffer from frequent breathlessness may depend on daily supplemental oxygen to maintain healthy oxygen levels.
Since emphysema makes individuals more vulnerable to infections, doctors administer antibiotics to treat related diseases, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, Medical News Today notes. If severe tissue damage interferes with lung function, a surgeon may be able to remove enough tissue to sufficiently restore breathing ability. However, when doctors believe patients are at risk of serious lung failure and other treatments have failed, they may pursue a lung transplant.