What can people with Alpha-1-related emphysema do to stay as healthy as possible? First and foremost, don’t smoke! Smoking is the worst thing for Alpha-1 because it causes more inflammation in the lungs, which leads to greater activity on the part of the neutrophil elastase enzyme that causes the damage that leads to emphysema. If you currently smoke, ask your doctor or respiratory therapist how to enroll in a smoking cessation program, or request information on other non-smoking assistance, such as a nicotine replacement product.
In addition to not smoking, people with Alpha-1 will also want to follow their doctor’s recommendations on taking their augmentation therapy. Taking the treatments as prescribed is the best defense against further damage to the lungs. Patients may also benefit from an inhaled steroid or bronchodialator to open up the airways, and should always contact their doctor or respiratory therapist at the first sign of a cold or other respiratory infection. Treating infections promptly is paramount to minimizing further lung damage. In some cases, oxygen may be prescribed as well, to help with breathing problems.
Alpha-1 patients will also want to receive annual flu shots and should be vaccinated against pneumonia. Eating properly will help maintain strength, and regular exercise is important as well, to build up the lung muscles and increase exercise capacity. One of the best ways to get this exercise is through a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs, usually overseen by respiratory therapists, provide patients with individually tailored exercise programs, along with education about their disease and testing to measure progress. Ask your doctor or respiratory therapist about a program in your area.