Emphysema affects 3-million Americans - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Emphysema affects 3-million Americans

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January 24, 2005

Albany - The country is mourning the death of comedian and long-time "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson. 79 year-old Carson died Sunday from complications from emphysema. Emphysema affects more than 3-million Americans, and most of the time it can be avoided.

Johnny Carson made Americans laugh for more than 3 decades. But today, Carson fans are heavy hearted as they mourn his death. Carson, like many others, started smoking before the many dangers of the habit were known. Smoking lead to the disease that killed him - Emphysema.

"It's like drinking coffee through a straw," said Pulmonary Specialist Dr. Jyotir Mehta.

Pulmonary Specialist Dr. Jyotir Mehta says the chemicals inside a cigarette destroy the lungs by clogging the airways and blocking air flow. "The person has to breathe much harder because they have to bring the same amount of air through a narrower airway."

The lungs hyper inflate or swell, trapping the air. "It's like trying to blow up a balloon that is half filled," said Dr. Mehta. 

The inflamed airways produce too much mucus causing the person to cough or weezing a lot. If the disease is found soon enough, the treatment is fairly effective. But, there's no cure for emphysema.

"Once of lung is damaged, it doesn't re-grow. That's why it's important for people to quit smoking earlier and take medication in order to keep lungs functioning to the best of their ability."

Emphysema also can lead to other deadly problems. "It can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure so people end up on a ventilator. It increases the chance of you getting heart attack, stroke, bladder cancer," said Dr. Mehta. Those complications kill thousands of people each year, including an American comedy legend.

If you are or were a long-time smoker, you should see a pulmonary specialist. You may suffer for emphysema, even if you don't have any symptoms.

posted at 4:10PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com