Emphysema And Hydration

What is emphysema?

Emphysema is a chronic condition part of a group of lung diseases called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This lung condition is characterised by breathing difficulties and is caused by the collapse or damage of tiny air sacs known as alveoli. These air sacs make up the lungs and are where oxygen is taken into the body and carbon dioxide, the waste is expelled. The breakdown of the alveoli walls leads to overinflation of the air sacs, which causes both breathlessness and a decline in respiratory function. Since the injury to the air sacs can't be repaired, permanent holes in the lower lung tissue are formed. Emphysema arises gradually over time and can be caused by irritating fumes, dust, smoking (the main cause) and air pollution.1

People that have emphysema find it painful or difficult to breathe due to hyperinflation in their chest, this is when the injured/damaged parts of the lung turn baggy and trap air. Consequently, when breathing, the damaged parts of the lung inflate more and get in the way of healthy parts of the lung. It is this rise in the amount of air (inside the chest) that is called hyperinflation.2 


Emphysema is a long-term condition that typically develops gradually over several years. There may be no symptoms for a while, it is therefore difficult for people to know if they have emphysema.3 Symptoms arise as the condition gets worse; the main symptom includes shortness of breath as well as a cough.

As the cough and the shortness of breath become increasingly worse, people find themselves becoming less physically active. Daily tasks become very difficult and eventually, shortness of breath is presented even when at rest.4

The symptoms of emphysema are:

  • Chest tightness
  • Long-term mucus production
  • Constant fatigue
  • Chronic coughing, also known as a “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath, particularly when it develops over time
  • Wheezing

Benefits of staying hydrated

Drinking water and staying hydrated are crucial for the body’s needs and processes, including:

  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Hydration
  • Protecting the mouth and eyes
  • Lubricating joints

For people living with emphysema, proper hydration can be tricky but is essential in the management of the condition. For example, increased mucus production is prevalent in many people with emphysema, the excess mucus becomes sticky, difficult, and too thick to clear out from the lungs. But drinking an adequate amount of water will thin the mucus, which makes it easier to cough up. Furthermore, drinking plenty of water will help keep the mucous membranes moist which aids immunity, dry mucous membranes are a sign of dehydration and can lead to further health problems.6

Water also helps in the regulation of blood pressure; this is because dehydration makes the blood thicker. The reduced water content in the blood causes spikes in pressure, and it is therefore advised to drink six to eight glasses of water every day.5

What drinks are best?

There are numerous drink options when seeking hydration, however, it is vital to be aware of which liquids to avoid. Drinks that contain caffeine such as coffee and tea are not desirable, this is because these beverages pull water away or dehydrate the body. These drinks  should be consumed in moderation, with a glass of water to follow, and are best avoided.

Some people find it hard to drink plain water all day, one way of making this interesting is by infusing the water with fruits and herbs. This is a healthy way to add flavour without adding sugar, some combinations to try include basil and lime as well as strawberries, cucumber and mint-infused water. 


Emphysema is a chronic lung condition part of a group of lung diseases called COPD. It is characterised by damage and breakdown of the alveoli walls, which leads to overinflation of the air sacs and hence both breathlessness and problems with respiratory function. The causes of this condition range from irritating fumes to dust and most commonly smoking. Though emphysema does not show symptoms at first, signs of this condition include chest tightness, excessive mucus production and shortness of breath. For people living with emphysema, adequate hydration is essential in the management of this condition. Water is the best option in helping overcome symptoms such as excess mucus production and high blood pressure, fruit and herbal-infused water is another alternative.


  1. Pulmonary emphysema [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  2. Emphysema - british lung foundation [Internet]. Asthma + Lung UK. 2020 [cited 2022 Nov 4]. Available from: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/copd/emphysema
  3. Emphysema: symptoms and causes | tampa general hospital [Internet]. [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  4. Emphysema | causes, symptoms and treatment [Internet]. [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  5. Ltd HP. Can drinking water every day lower your blood pressure? [Internet]. HealthMatch. 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  6. What mucous membranes do in your body [Internet]. Verywell Health. [cited 2022 Nov 4].

Iqra Khalif

Pharmaceutical Science, University of Hertfordshire

Iqra Khalif is a pharmaceutical scientist with deep roots in research and development. She has a leadership qualification in global health and is interested in strategising for innovation in the life sciences.
She currently works in data analytics and management for a health-tech startup.

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