Many lung diseases are very closely related with similar symptoms, making it difficult to understand how one is different from the next. There are, however, differences in the causes, symptoms and treatment of those diseases.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis share many similarities, and they often occur together, further complicating the matter. Both are most often caused by smoking and leave their victims with difficulty breathing. But there are inherent differences between the two diseases.
Emphysema presents with shortness of breath and wheezing. The disease is caused by inflammation of the aveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs that exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood stream. Over time the damage to the aveoli causes ruptures, allowing air to leak into the chest cavity and reducing the efficiency of that operation. In the end, the body is deprived of oxygen.
Chronic bronchitis affects the airways, known as bronchial tubes, that lead to the lungs. Chronic inflammation causes the walls to thicken. As an immune response, the lungs produce thick mucus which can build up and further block airways. The result is coughing (often called smoker’s cough) and difficulty breathing.
While both diseases may seem very similar to patients, the distinction is important from a doctor’s perspective because the appropriate treatments differ. That makes an accurate diagnosis critical to providing the best care.