Friday, January 19, 2018

Emphysema Treatments and Remedies

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Category: Emphysema

Emphysema is usually caused by years of smoking, and is due to damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. People with emphysema experience shortness of breath because their bodies are not getting enough oxygen, and often have a chronic cough.

Quitting smoking can help prevent you from getting emphysema, and if you already have emphysema, quitting may keep it from getting worse. Emphysema treatments depend on whether you have mild, moderate or severe symptoms, and you should consult your doctor to discuss options. Treatments include inhalers, oxygen, medications and sometimes surgery to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

There are also some alternative and complementary therapies that may help you feel better and improve your quality of life.

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking stops the progression of emphysema, but does not reverse it, says family practitioners Anne Simons, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California’s San Francisco Medical Center. Alveolar damage is permanent, and emphysema symptoms remain. For help quitting, ask your doctor, or contact the American Lung Association (ALA), or pick up a copy of The No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way Guide to Quitting Smoking by Tom Ferguson, M.D. (Ballantine).

Lifestyle Modifications

The American Lung Association suggests:

  • Avoid irritants. Stay away from smokers, dust, barbecue fires, and chemical vapors.
  • Plan ahead. Figure out the most efficient, least strenuous ways to accomplish what you need to do.
  • Pace yourself. Instead of bursts of activity, maintain a slow, steady pace. Eat slowly. Chew slowly. Schedule rest periods frequently during the day.
  • Forget fashion. Wear jogging suits whenever possible. They’re easy to pull on and take off. Use suspenders instead of a belt. Wear open-neck shirts. After bathing, instead of drying yourself with a towel, simply slip on a thick terry cloth robe and let it dry you.
  • Sit to survive. When bathing, dressing, shaving, or applying makeup, sit on a stool.
  • Labor saving savvy. Consider a microwave oven, remote-controlled TV, cordless phone, electric automobile windows and doorlocks—anything that helps eliminate exertion.
  • Watch out for winter. Cold air can be especially hard to breathe. Wear a soft scarf or cold air mask (available at pharmacies) over your mouth and nose to warm incoming air. As much as possible, breathe through your nose.

Breathing Exercises

  • A book on the belly. “In my experience,” says Gerald Epstein, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and author of Healing Visualizations, “I’ve been amazed at the intimate connection between breathing disturbances and anxiety.” That anxiety leads to shallow, rapid breathing, which aggravates shortness of breath and heightens anxiety. To break this vicious cycle, Richard Firshein, D.O., Medical Director of the Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City, recommends slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing, also known as “belly breathing:” Lie on your back. Place a book on your abdomen. Then breathe so that the book moves up and down several inches with each breath.
  • Strive for “ssssssss.” That’s the sound you make when you breath through pursed-lips. The ALA suggests pursed-lip breathing for people with emphysema. Keep your lips shut tight except for a tiny opening at the center. Inhale and exhale slowly, with steady pressure, making an “sssss” sound. Try to exhale for twice as long as you inhale.


Imagine breathing freely. In addition to breathing exercises, Dr. Epstein suggests the following anxiety-relieving visualization to help you breathe more easily. Practice it for a minute or two every few hours:

  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, telling yourself that you can rid yourself of anything that interferes with normal breathing. Then open your eyes.
  • Close your eyes again and take three breaths. If you cough, just accept it, and keep breathing. Open your eyes.
  • Close your eyes again and repeat the three breaths. Focus on how your breathing is changing, deepening. Open your eyes.
  • Repeat the exercise, focusing on breathing from your diaphragm, not your upper chest.


  • Low Fat Diet. Emphysema makes it difficult to exercise, which, in turn, makes it hard to control your weight. It takes extra strength to carry extra pounds, strength you probably don’t have. To help control your weight, eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet (see Chapter 3, VEGETARIANISM, and Chapter 4, LOW-FAT). Low-fat eating also gives you more nutrients per bite, which is important when emphysema makes chewing a chore.
  • “C” to breath free. A recent ALA study shows that a diet high in vitamin C can help prevent emphysema’s sister condition, COPD. British researchers in Nottingham studied 2,633 adults, about one-quarter of whom were smokers. The more vitamin C they consumed from foods, the better their lung function. This study corroborates other research showing that vitamin C also helps prevent asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Fish story. University of Minnesota researchers correlated the fish consumption and lung function of longtime smokers. Compared with smokers who ate fish less than twice a week, those who ate it two or more times a week enjoyed significantly better breathing. “Fish and fish oil supplements are high in omega-3 fatty acids,” says Alan Gaby, M.D., past president of the American Holistic Health Association and a professor of nutrition at Bastyr University, the naturopathic medical school near Seattle. “Their anti-inflammatory action helps reduce the lung damage caused by smoking.”


  • The promise of vitamin A. Researchers at Georgetown University School of Medicine have, for the first time, successfully reversed emphysema in mice by injecting them with retinoic acid, an antioxidant in the vitamin A family. The treated mice grew healthy new alveoli. This research is a far cry from a cure for emphysema: You have to be cautious about pilot studies and animal tests. But it’s certainly intriguing, and it dovetails with a great deal of research showing that antioxidant nutrients are crucial to lung health. For example, as dietary antioxidants increase, lung cancer risk decreases. And as dietary and supplemental vitamin C increases, asthma risk and severity decreases. It can’t hurt to eat more foods high in vitamin A: yellow-orange fruits and vegetables— carrots, cantaloupe, and apricots, and eggs, dairy foods, and salmon. As for supplementation, Connecticut clinical nutritionist Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., recommends 50,000 to 100,000 International Units (IU) of beta-crotene daily.
  • Strike oil. Fish oil, that is. If you don’t like fish, or if you’d like some extra omega-3 fatty acids, Dr. Gaby suggests taking a fish oil supplement.They’re available at health food stores. Follow package directions.


  • Do it daily. When you have emphysema, it’s hard to exercise. It’s also important. The ALA recommends daily walks, or other nonstrenous activities: for example, gardening or swimming.
  • No sweat qigong. Sports medicine researchers at Life College in Marietta, Georgia, measured the respiratory efficiency of five men and five women before they learned a 20-minute qigong routine. After the class, the participants’ respiratory efficiency increased 20 percent, suggesting that qigong would help treat a variety of respiratory conditions, among them, emphysema. The beauty of qigong for people with emphysema is that it’s very gentle and non-strenuous.
  • Try Trager. Trager psychophysical integration is a gentle form of bodywork that combines massage and movement. In one study, physical therapy researchers measured the lung function of people with COPD. After two weeks of Trager work, their lung function improved significantly.

Chinese Medicine

  • Strengthen weakness. Chinese medicine views emphysema as a weakness and deficiency of the Lung and Spleen, according to San Francisco Chinese physician Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D., co-author (with is wife and practice partner, Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac.) of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. Formulas to treat it include strengthening herbs: ginseng, schizandra, perilla seed, aster root, and orange peel.
  • Needle it. In one study, 12 matched pairs of people with COPD received either true or sham acupuncture. After three weeks, the true acupuncture group reported breathing more easily and walked farther in a six-minute walking test. Acupuncture points Dr. Korgold recommends include: Lung 9 on the inner forearm, on the thumb side, in the hollow between the wrist bone and the crease of the wrist, and Spleen 6, four finger widths above the inner anklebone close to the back of the shinbone.


Foil flu. If you have emphysema and catch the flu, you’re at considerable risk of developing potentially fatal flu-related pneumonia. To prevent the flu, get a flu shot every autumn.

Herbal Medicine

Meet mullein. “If I had emphysema,” says Maryland botanist/herbalist James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy, “I’d take mullein tea. Mullein is rich in a soluble fiber called mucilage that soothes the respiratory tract. That’s why the flowers and leaves of this velvety herb have a long history of folk use in treating colds, flu, and bronchitis. Many herbalists I respect recommend mullein for emphysema.” Dr. Duke suggests 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried, crushed mullein leaves or flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes.

Social Support

Group inspiration. Your local ALA office may be able to refer you to a support/rehabilitation group. There is some evidence that these groups decrease risk of respiratory crises that require hospitalization.


Mindful lung-full. At the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., director of the Stress Clinic, has been experimenting with mindfulness meditation as a treatment for emphysema. Mindfulness involves focusing intently on some aspect of daily living, typically an object, but in this case, breathing. Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s preliminary studies suggest that mindfulness helps people with emphysema breathe more efficiently and reduces respiratory crises that send them to emergency rooms.


Help from Hepar. Berkeley, California, homeopath Dana Ullman, M.P.H., author of several books including The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy, says that Hepar sulph (sulfide of calcium) and Phosphorus may help treat emphysema.

And Finally…

Physicians can prescribe the kind of bronchodilators used to treat asthma, but these provide only temporary relief. The key to treating emphysema is to quit smoking.


6 Responses to “Emphysema Treatments and Remedies”
  1. Osteopathic physician says:

    As a medical student of NYCOM, I never heard of Dr. Firshein being a professor there – he is not listed on the faculty in the school’s catalog either. Also, although family physicians are well-trained in pulmonology, they are not considered “lung specialists” as you suggest Dr. Firshein to be.

  2. michelle says:

    my dad was diagnosed with emphysema, its been 3 months mow since he quit smoking at one point he needed to use the albuterol treatment every hour and use oxygen, but now he started using atrovent inhaler every for hours and he doesn’t really need to use the oxygen and his alot active. my question is , Is it necessary for my dad to use the oxygen at all times if he is breathing ok or he just need to use when he feels like he’s having shortness of breath

    pls reply

    • Judy says:

      Your dad should purchase a finger pulse oximeter so that he can keep tabs on his blood oxygen levels. If they are okay, he is probably okay in using oxygen only when he needs it. However, he might want to use it while he sleeps, or, at least have someone test his oxygen level while he is sleeping.

  3. Millie says:

    I was diagnosed with copd and emphysema about 8 years ago. I have no bronchitis since I quit smoking about 5 years ago. But my doctor says I’m a pink puffer (had to look that up on the internet) and in addition, I do not have to be on oxygen. Yet I am almost constantly at the point of desperation, bent over at the middle, trying to breathe. If I do dishes or fix a sandwich, I have to lean over and rest on my elbows. Yesterday I went to the doctor…it was the first time I’d been out of my house in 11 months (since I last saw her).
    Also, I have no car and can’t drive myself anywhere.
    My pulmonary specialist has me on Albuterol only, plus my regular doctor has me on high blood pressure meds. I asked her, “Why, if I don’t need to be on oxygen, am I suffering to get a breath. I can’t hardly take a bath, cook for myself ….I live alone and seem unable to do anything physical, even changing clothes often makes me collapse and have to sit down, fast,) but why am I still suffering so? Could it be my blood pressure medicines, (HCTZ, Clonidine, Losartan…which have side effects as difficulty breathing)?” and she snapped, “No!
    You have COPD; you’re a pink puffer!” and that was it. She is part of my group health plan band of doctors and I don’t think much of her knowledge in general. She did’nt even know that bad teeth can cause a virus that can give you heart attacks, strokes, etc, and I have a mouthful of them and need to have them all pulled but have no money. Also I have cataracts and glaucoma but can’t go to have my eyes checked due to the terrible stress of getting dressed and getting up and down 3 flights of stairs. My question is: What in God’s name can I do to help myself? I do have days when I’m not bad at all….I even asked her if maybe I was having panic attacks, but she snapped “No! It’s emphysema!”…..”But”, I asked her, “then why should I be feeling this badly yet still not need to be on oxygen?”
    Evidently my lungs can still have the oxygen changeover that it needs to make so that is why. Still, I don’t believe I should be all doubled over, suffocating, wide awake all night everynight, etc., trying to breathe. There must be someone out there who can advise me. Please.

    • Judy says:

      You need a new doctor. I would refuse to be seen by the doctor you described. Keep trying until you get the help you need. You can purchase a finger pules oximeter for about $45. You then can test your own oxygen. Wishing you well.

  4. Robert says:

    People for God’s sake don’t panic!!!! I smoked for many years kind a like John Wayne! Know what? I refuse to let this Emphysema get the best of me! I am a modest type of guy and played football in high school, anda little bit in college ( U. of Miami, Fl) and thought I was industructible; but no maws. I am back in the Gym and at present doind treadmill; but will pumping iron pretty damn quick! I went to Ga., and saw my former College Sweetheart twice. Did pretty well the first trip, and we fell in love again…The second trip was a disaster: I gained weight, left Meds at home +++ Well I don’t know whether she’ll want me back; but I am going to work on it, and whip this burden of enphrsema… P>S> I am 69; look 50 right now !