ZocdocAnswersIs emphysema permanent?

Question

Is emphysema permanent?

My 67-year old father got emphysema from smoking, and I'm wondering if it goes away? Especially if he stops smoking.

Answer

This is an excellent question, and one your father should ask his primary care doctor about. Unfortunately, emphysema is not a condition that goes away even if a person does quit smoking...but, quitting smoking can help prevent any further lung damage from developing and is a critical step for managing the symptoms and quality of life for patients with emphysema. Briefly, emphysema refers to a process in the lungs in which the connective tissue supporting the alveoli (or air sacs) in the lungs is damaged. This leads to difficulty with moving air in and out of the lungs and with the transfer of carbon dioxide from the blood into the lungs to be exhaled in exchange for inhaled oxygen traveling from the lungs into the blood. Some causes of emphysema are genetic, but the most common cause is exposure to inhaled toxins from air pollution or cigarette smoke. Once connective tissue is destroyed the damage is permanent, but in patients who are continually exposed to smoke or pollution, damage can continue. As you have probably already observed with your father, the main symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath and difficulty with exertion. In order to improve quality of life for patients with emphysema, minimizing any further damage to the lungs is very important. If your father is willing to quit smoking, this will help his long-term health. Overall, patients with emphysema are often managed by a pulmonary specialist who can help provide further recommendations about smoking cessation and medications for symptom control. I would begin by booking an appointment with a primary care doctor, who may refer your father to a pulmonary specialist.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.