Bullous emphysema is a medical condition in which spherical air sacs in the lungs become severely enlarged and eventually rupture and deteriorate. Individuals with progressive bullous emphysema often experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, chronic coughing, and other debilitating symptoms related to a lack of oxygen in the blood. In the most severe cases, the condition can cause one or both lungs to collapse and necessitate emergency surgery to restore or remove a lung. A person who believes he or she may be experiencing the first signs of the disorder should consult a doctor immediately to make a proper diagnosis and arrange for treatment.
Normal human lungs rely on small air sacs to intake oxygen and distribute it into the blood. In the case of this type of emphysema, the air sacs become overinflated and cystic, putting excess strain on normal lung tissue and blocking oxygen from reaching the bloodstream. The air sacs often become inflamed and can even rupture, which severely limits lung functioning. Doctors and medical researchers have identified smoking, sarcoidosis, and genetic tendencies as the most common causes of this disease. Exposure to airborne pathogens, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can also contribute to the development of the condition.
Most people with bullous emphysema experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up phlegm, and centralized pain in their chests, especially when engaging in physical activity. Some patients suffer from nausea, loss of appetite, and fatigue as a result of constant breathing problems. Lowered oxygen levels in the blood can result in heart problems, weakness, and discoloration of the fingernails and toenails.
Trained physicians can perform a number of tests to diagnose bullous emphysema. A patient may be asked to blow into a spirometer to measure lung capacity or wear an oximeter on his or her finger to calculate oxygen levels in the blood. A doctor may also take x-rays or computerized tomography scans to check for the presence of enlarged and damaged air sacs. Once emphysema is determined to be the cause of a patient's symptoms, the physician can design an individualized treatment plan.
Treatment for bullous emphysema usually focuses on increasing airflow into the lungs. This can be accomplished by quitting smoking, taking antibiotics to control swelling or infections, using inhalers that contain concentrated prescription steroids, or utilizing a supplemental oxygen machine. In severe cases of emphysema or emergency situations where a lung has collapsed, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged areas of lungs or entire organs. Lung transplants are usually considered a final option in relieving symptoms.