Emphysema: What Is It? Causes, Symptoms, And More

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 04/08/2023

Emphysema is a type of lung disease. It’s characterised by shortness of breath due to the deterioration of the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in your lungs. This disease can be genetic, or it can be caused by external factors present in your environment.

People with emphysema notice a reduction in the quality of life due to the chronic symptoms of the disease. Treatments for this condition can range from simple lifestyle changes to even surgery in extreme cases.

In this case, health insurance plans can be of great help. Medications and regular treatments can be expensive, especially for chronic illnesses. A medical insurance plan can help cover part or even the entire cost, reducing the financial burdens this illness can cause its patients.

What Is Emphysema

Emphysema falls under the umbrella term - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The diseases under COPD can also include chronic bronchitis and asthma. Patients with emphysema experience shortness of breath, which may or may not worsen with time.

The shortness of breath is caused when the walls of your alveoli are damaged. Alveoli are tiny, thin-walled air sacs present in your lungs. When you breathe in, the alveoli stretch to draw in oxygen which is then used to oxygenate your blood. When you breathe out, they shrink from forcing carbon dioxide out of your body.

To understand emphysema’s meaning in simpler terms, think of your lungs as bubble wrap. The alveoli are the individual bubbles on the bubble wrap. If you have emphysema disease, these bubbles can break. So instead of many tiny bubbles, you can develop one giant bubble for an air pocket. This damage can cause your overall lung surface to shrink.

This can then make breathing difficult, so emphysema, by definition, can be termed as shortness of breath.

Emphysema Causes

People are most at risk of developing emphysema if they are constantly breathing in harmful irritants. Some common causes are:

Smoking: It’s been reported that nearly 80% - 95% of people that developed COPDs later in life smoked cigarettes or tobacco.

Long-Term Exposure To Irritants And Air Pollutants: Second-hand smoke, air pollutants, chemical fumes and dust all fall under this category.

Age: Most of our bodily functions and processes deteriorate when we grow old. Most people who have or develop emphysema are at least 40 years of age.

Genetics: In rare cases, some people are naturally predisposed to getting emphysema. They can have what’s called an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Additionally, smokers who have a family history of COPDs are more likely to develop emphysema later in life.

Emphysema Symptoms

Emphysema can present with very mild symptoms in the beginning. However, as the disease worsens, so can your symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Frequent coughing and wheezing

  • Wet cough (Coughs that produce a lot of mucus)

  • Shortness of breath after physical exertion

  • Whistling sound when your breath

  • The feeling of tightness in your chest

People with emphysema can also contract frequent respiratory illnesses like colds and cases of flu. In more severe cases, symptoms can include:

  • Weight loss

  • Weakness in muscles

  • Swelling of ankles, legs, or feet

  • Depression

These are a result of low levels of oxygen in your blood.

Emphysema Treatment And Diagnosis: How Is This Condition Managed And Treated

Diagnosis of this illness begins with a visit to the doctor. They will ask for your medical history, and they may ask you questions like if you smoke or if you work or live in environments with hazardous fumes.

Additional Tests performed to detect emphysema

  • Image tests like X-rays, CT scans

  • Blood tests and pulse oximetry - To determine blood oxygen levels

  • Lung infection tests

  • Arterial blood gas (ABG) tests - To measure the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) Test - To rule out heart disease

Emphysema Treatment

-Lifestyle Changes

This can include steps like quitting smoking if you are a smoker. It is also recommended to avoid second-hand smoke and places where there may be lung irritants. Other suggestions can include making dietary changes. Furthermore, exercise or other forms of physical activity in your routine is recommended, as they help strengthen your lungs.


Medications can vary from person to person. For example, some people have been prescribed Bronchodilators, administered through inhalers to make breathing easier.

Flu shots and vaccines against pneumonia, since people with emphysema are at higher risk for these diseases

Antibiotics in case you have a viral or bacterial lung infection.

-Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is used in more severe cases when your blood has low oxygen levels. Depending on the severity, you may need oxygen occasionally or 24/7.

-Pulmonary Rehabilitation

This program is aimed at people with chronic breathing problems. It can include treatments like:

  • An Exercise Program

  • Disease Management Training

  • Nutritional Counselling

  • Psychological Counselling


Surgery is a last resort option for people with severe symptoms who haven’t seen improvement with medication and other treatments.

The Need For Medical Insurance Plans

As you can see, emphysema requires regular health checkups and consistent medical treatment. In more severe cases, it can even require surgery. Unfortunately, these medical treatments can be expensive and cause heavy financial burdens for people with emphysema.

Health insurance plans offer to ease that financial burden by providing coverage for most, if not all, of your medical treatments and expenses. It can help reduce your worries over rising medical costs and other costly treatments you may have to choose.

Do Health Insurance Plans Cover Chronic Respiratory Illnesses?

The MediCare plans we offer cover respiratory diseases under our health insurance plans. They also include coverage for Covid-19. The health insurance plans that we provide coverage for people with respiratory diseases include:

Tata AIG MediCare

Tata AIG MediCare Premier


The rising air pollution problems in most Indian cities are a cause for concern as they can increase the likelihood of more people developing COPDs like emphysema in the future. Simply put, people will be more prone to lung diseases, and, in some cases, hospitalisation may become absolutely necessary. Having a medical insurance plan in this regard can be extremely helpful. One of the prime benefits of health insurance is that it helps you tackle the financial requirement in the hour of a medical emergency.

Disclaimer / TnC

Your policy is subjected to terms and conditions & inclusions and exclusions mentioned in your policy wording. Please go through the documents carefully.

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