Emphysema FAQ

Can your lungs heal from emphysema?

Emphysema is not curable and is a progressive disease that can get worse with time. However, it is preventable and treatable. There are various ways to lessen the severity of symptoms and make the disease more manageable. You can manage emphysema by:

  • Quitting smoking completely
  • Avoiding polluted air
  • Respiratory rehabilitation
  • In advanced cases; oxygen treatment
  • Yearly influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations to prevent other respiratory diseases
  • Regular exercise.1

What is the life expectancy of a person with emphysema?

The life expectancy of a person with emphysema depends on the stage of the condition when it gets diagnosed, which often doesn’t happen until the advanced stage. It is also dependent on the overall health of the individual, severity of symptoms and if the person receives any treatment. People with managed emphysema can live up to their late years (80s to 90s);  however, if any complications and other infections of the respiratory system occur,  they might die early and suddenly.1

What does emphysema mean?

Emphysema is a form of lung damage that, along with chronic bronchitis, is a part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).2 Healthy lungs are made up of air sacs (alveoli) with elastic walls. This is where oxygen is taken into the body, and carbon dioxide is expelled. Emphysema is when the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. The sacs break and merge, creating holes in the lung. With emphysema, it might be uncomfortable to breathe as your chest is hyperinflated; this is because the damaged parts of the lungs trap air.2

Can you stop emphysema from progressing?

The only way to stop the progression of emphysema is to quit smoking. Continuing smoking will increase the severity of the disease. If you quit smoking relatively early, it is possible that the lungs will stabilise, however, the damaged parts of the lungs will never recover.3

Does emphysema make you very tired?

The short answer is yes. Emphysema makes it more difficult for you to breathe and provide your body with enough oxygen, thus, affecting energy levels. Emphysema also often occurs with sleep apnea, and poor sleep can result in tiredness during the day too.4

Do people with emphysema have sleep apnea?

Sleep difficulties are common in people with emphysema, and sleep apnea can be one of them. However, not everyone with emphysema has sleep apnea, as there is no direct link between these two, and the chances of getting sleep apnea are just the same with or without emphysema.4 

What other body systems are affected by emphysema?

Emphysema mainly affects the lungs and respiratory system. Nevertheless, the more advanced stages of the disease might affect the circulatory system, heart, and muscles.1

Is air trapped in emphysema?

Yes, the air in your lungs becomes trapped when you have emphysema. The air sacs that lungs are made up of can break and merge, creating holes in which air can become trapped.2 

How do you get emphysema if you don’t smoke?

Although smoking is the main cause of emphysema, you might get it even when you don’t smoke. The other major cause of it is AAT (Alpha-1-antitrypsin) deficiency. AAT is a protein that is produced in the liver and protects body tissues, including lung tissue, from being damaged by the immune system. The AAT deficiency is inherited and affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 individuals.5 

Another common cause is secondhand smoke (being around people who smoke). Columbia University’s School of Public Health researchers found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke face a higher risk of developing early emphysema as they grow up into nonsmoking adults.

Is banana good for emphysema?

The studies have shown that certain foods, such as bananas, grapefruits, fish, and cheese, have a positive effect on emphysema scores over 3 years. A healthy balanced diet, rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables can definitely help your health.6


  1. Emphysema - better health channel [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/emphysema 
  2.  Emphysema - british lung foundation [Internet]. Asthma + Lung UK. 2020 [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/copd/emphysema  
  3.  Miller M, Cho JY, Pham A, Friedman PJ, Ramsdell J, Broide DH. Persistent airway inflammation and emphysema progression on ct scan in ex-smokers observed for 4 years. Chest [Internet]. 2011 Jun [cited 2022 Sep 23];139(6):1380–7. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S001236921160295X 
  4.  Krachman S, Minai OA, Scharf SM. Sleep abnormalities and treatment in emphysema. Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society [Internet]. 2008 May 1 [cited 2022 Sep 23];5(4):536–42. Available from: http://pats.atsjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1513/pats.200708-134ET
  5.  Miravitlles M, Chorostowska-Wynimko J, Ferrarotti I, McElvaney NG, O’Hara K, Stolk J, et al. The European Alpha-1 Research Collaboration (Earco): a new ERS Clinical Research Collaboration to promote research in alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. European Respiratory Journal [Internet]. 2019 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Sep 23];53(2). Available from: https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/53/2/1900138
  6.  Hanson C, Sayles H, Rutten E, Wouters EFM, MacNee W, Calverley P, et al. The association between dietary intake and phenotypical characteristics of copd in the eclipse cohort. J COPD F [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Sep 23];1(1):115–24. Available from: http://journal.copdfoundation.org/jcopdf/id/1017/The-Association-Between-Dietary-Intake-and-Phenotypical-Characteristics-of-COPD-in-the-ECLIPSE-Cohort 

Weronika Konarska

Bachelor of Science - BS, Zoology/Animal Biology, Swansea University

Weronika is a Zoology student with a passion for One Health approach and tackling infectious diseases.
She has previous scientific writing experience including animal welfare and medical content.

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