Emphysema & Chronic Bronchitis: Living With COPD

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

Photo Courtesy: Phynart Studio/E+/Getty Images

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are commonly grouped into one category and referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, or COPD, by most physicians. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Here, we'll take an in-depth look at these two forms of COPD and how to live with them. For starters, let's define both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. 

Emphysema: Emphysema describes the damaged air sacs in a person's lungs, which causes them to lose their elasticity. These air sacs are vital for the exchange of oxygen that's inhaled from the air and the carbon dioxide in one's blood. Eventually, damage to these air sacs results in permanent fissures in the tissues of a person's lungs. The end result of emphysema is a limited air supply, which causes a person to frequently feel out of breath, especially during physical activity.

Chronic Bronchitis: Chronic bronchitis is defined as coughing for three months in two consecutive years. Moreover, it occurs when the airways to one's lungs are damaged and lose their elasticity. This often occurs due to long-term smoking, but it can also stem from genetic factors. The affected airways limit the amount of air being passed, resulting in a hoarse cough. The cough then causes an excess of mucus that further blocks the airways, resulting in constant shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.