Emphysema at 10x Magnification

Emphysema is characterized by a deterioration of the elasticity of the lungs, which results in collapse of the alveolar walls and degeneration of the pulmonary capillaries. Consequently, large pockets of air may fill the lungs, but cannot be readily exhaled because the damage present in the organs hinders them from effectively pushing the air out. Early signs of the disease are breathlessness during physical exertion and a mild, chronic cough. Over time, the condition gets progressively worse, especially among smokers. It may become difficult to obtain enough air even when at rest, interest in eating may decrease because the process is made arduous by breathing problems, and the production of phlegm may become a constant occupation, aggravating the cough. Other common symptoms of emphysema include wheezing, tightness of the chest, intolerance to cold environments, swelling in the extremities, and a bluish hue to the skin related to insufficient exchange of gases. Without treatment, permanent disability can result, as can heart or respiratory failure leading to death.

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