Smokers are advised to stop smoking. Medications called bronchodilators help keep the airways open. Steroids may reduce inflammation. Bacterial lung infections may be treated with antibiotics. Breathing exercises may also be helpful for some patients. When patients have a very hard time getting enough air, supplemental oxygen can be given.
In severe cases, surgery may be performed to remove damaged areas of the lungs. The goal of the surgery is to reduce the volume of diseased lung tissue and make it easier for the remaining areas of healthy tissue to contract. However, this treatment can only be used if the damage is concentrated in a particular area of the lung.
Emphysema that causes widespread damage throughout the lung is known as homogeneous emphysema. Researchers are now undertaking a Phase III trial of a new procedure, called Exhale Airway Bypass for Emphysema (EASE), for patients with homogenous emphysema. The treatment aims to provide new exit-ways for trapped air in the lungs.
A narrow tube, called a bronchoscope, is passed through the mouth into the lungs. Once a location is mapped out, a small needle is inserted into the wall of the affected airway to create a small hole. Then a stent (a stainless steel scaffold) is placed into the hole to keep it open. The stent is covered with a layer of drug-infused silicone to reduce the risk of blood clots that can close off the hole. Up to six stents are placed throughout the lung. Once the stents are in place, the holes provide a new passageway for air to escape from the lungs.
In the trial, two-thirds of the participants will receive the stent. The remaining third will only have the bronchoscopy (i.e., no holes will be made in the airways). Patients will be evaluated every three months for one year. For information about the trial, log onto http://clinicaltrials.gov , and enter the trial identification number in the search box: NCT00391612.