Antibiotics for Emphysema: Types, Benefits, Other Treatments


Emphysema is a lung disease that can develop after long-term tobacco use or exposure to second-hand smoke. It is part of a group of lung diseases known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If you have emphysema, you may feel like you’re out of breath often. Other common symptoms include chest tightness, coughing up phlegm, and wheezing.

This article explains when antibiotics are prescribed for emphysema and what other types of treatments are used for this condition.

Your lungs are made up of millions of microscopic air sacs called alveoli. With emphysema, the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) weaken and rupture. This makes your lungs less efficient.

Due to the rupture of the alveoli, less oxygen reaches your bloodstream when you inhale. When you exhale, air can get trapped in your lungs, making it harder for fresh air to get into your lungs.

Emphysema develops after years of lung damage, usually from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Less common causes of emphysema include regularly inhaling substances such as:

  • contaminted air
  • chemical products
  • fumes
  • dust

According to the American Lung Association, more than 3 million people have been diagnosed with emphysema in the United States. Due to the close connection between emphysema and smoking, it is considered one of the most preventable respiratory diseases.

Although emphysema is incurable, there are a variety of treatment options to help manage symptoms and prevent further lung damage. These include medications, behavioral therapies and, in severe cases, surgery.

Antibiotics do not specifically treat emphysema. Instead, they are prescribed to treat flare-ups or exacerbations associated with emphysema and COPD more broadly.

During a COPD exacerbation, symptoms such as shortness of breath and phlegm production suddenly worsen. In some cases, the cause is a bacterial infection of the lungs, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

The goal of antibiotic treatment is to eliminate the bacterial infection, thereby easing the symptoms. The type of antibiotic and the route of administration depend on the severity of the exacerbation.

According to treatment guidelines Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (GOLD)mild to moderate exacerbations can be treated with oral antibiotics, including:

Severe exacerbations are usually treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics, including:

  • ceftriaxone
  • levofloxacin
  • cefepime
  • piperacillin-tazobactam
  • aztreonam

Antibiotics are only useful if you have a bacterial infection. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and perform tests to determine if a bacterial infection is causing your exacerbation.

Other common emphysema treatments can help relieve your symptoms, while maintaining your lung health and quality of life.

Treatments may include:

  • Bronchodilators. Inhalers help relax the muscles in the airways, allowing more air to move in and out of your lungs.
  • Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids target and relieve airway inflammation and irritation.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehabilitation includes education, breathing exercises, and counseling to help you maintain your quality of life.
  • Vaccines. Flu and pneumonia vaccines can help prevent exacerbations associated with COPD and emphysema.
  • Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, moderate exercise, and eating a nutritious diet can help relieve emphysema symptoms.
  • Oxygen therapy. Portable oxygen therapy devices deliver concentrated oxygen to your lungs, helping to reduce shortness of breath.
  • Operation. Surgical treatments, usually a last resort in severe cases of emphysema, include procedures such as lung volume reduction surgery and a lung transplant.

The outlook for emphysema depends on a number of factors, such as when you are diagnosed. With early treatment, most people can manage their symptoms and slow disease progression.

The outlook for emphysema also depends on the steps you are willing to take. If you smoke, quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to prevent further lung damage.

If you experience a flare-up of emphysema symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment with antibiotics can make a significant difference when a bacterial infection causes an exacerbation.

Antibiotics are a type of medicine used to treat symptoms associated with COPD and emphysema. They are prescribed to treat flare-ups caused by respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. These infections are more likely to develop if you have emphysema.

Other medications for emphysema include bronchodilators and corticosteroids. Your doctor might also suggest pulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle changes to improve your lung health.

If you have emphysema, talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your risk of respiratory infections and what type of treatment is best for you.


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