Emphysema and Pneumonia

What is Emphysema? 

Emphysema is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult for sufferers to breathe. It is characterized by a restriction of airflow in and out of the lungs, thus causing difficulty breathing. As a result, people with emphysema need supplemental oxygen in order to participate in daily activities. Living with emphysema increases your susceptibility to life-threatening complications such as cardiovascular conditions and pneumonia.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is debilitating lung inflammation caused by over 30 types of infections. When someone has pneumonia, the air sacs in the lungs often fill with pus and become solid making it difficult to breathe. This results in a severe lack of oxygen to the body. If the pneumonia is caught early on and the affected individual is in relatively good health, there are typically minimal complications for treatment. But when an individual has another condition such as emphysema, it can become much harder to combat the pneumonia infection.

The Link Between Emphysema and Pneumonia

Individuals diagnosed with emphysema have a significantly higher risk for contracting pneumonia or other respiratory infections. This is because the individual’s lungs are already weakened from his or her progressive lung condition. The susceptibility for contracting pneumonia is often increased due to a suppressed immune system and an inability to filter viruses and bacteria out of the air. Once an individual has pneumonia and COPD, there is an increased risk of life-threatening exacerbations and respiratory failure. These two conditions—pneumonia and emphysema— trigger a vicious cycle in which one greatly impacts the other, thus making symptoms increasingly severe.

Comparing Life with Emphysema and Life with Pneumonia

When an individual has a chronic lung disease like emphysema, it can be almost impossible to tell if the symptoms are simply the progressive disease itself or an additional lung condition like pneumonia as the symptoms are quite similar. This often leads to an under-diagnosis of pneumonia for emphysema patients. Common symptoms of emphysema include cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, excess sputum production and chest tightness. Pneumonia can cause all of these symptoms plus a high fever, chills and shaking, and chest pain when coughing or breathing.

When an individual is suffering from both emphysema and pneumonia, they often demonstrate an inability to speak clearly due to a lack of oxygen, oddly colored mucus (including green, tan, yellow or bloody), a high fever and an inability to get relief from prescribed emphysema medications.

Seeking Treatment Immediately

Whether you are suffering from an emphysema flare-up or a new case of pneumonia, it is essential that you get help immediately. The sooner you can get treatment and get your symptoms under control, the less your lungs will be damaged. The inflammation resulting from pneumonia can further limit your airflow and cause irreversible damage to your already weakened lung tissue. By leaving your symptoms unchecked, you increase your risk for acute respiratory failure. This is the leading concern when emphysema sufferers develop pneumonia.

When your body is deprived of the oxygen it so desperately needs, it goes into crisis mode. This increases your risk for a variety of other life-threatening complications such as pulmonary hypertension, cardiovascular issues including heart attack and stroke, irreversible brain damage and even death.

Prevention is Key

When you have emphysema, it is possible to help protect yourself against pneumonia. By getting an annual pneumonia vaccine, you can ward off various strains of pneumonia. Other tips to combat pneumonia when you have emphysema focus on imperative lifestyle modifications:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take any emphysema medication as prescribed by your physician.
  • Get a yearly flu vaccine.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with emphysema and want to learn more about treatment options, please contact or call (800) 729-3065 us today.

* All treatments performed at Lung Institute utilize autologous stem cells, meaning those derived from a patient's own body. No fetal or embryonic stem cells are utilized in Lung Institute's procedures. Lung Institute aims to improve patients' quality of life and help them breathe easier through the use of autologous stem cell therapy. To learn more about how stem cells work for lung disease, click here.

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