What is Occupational Emphysema?

Emphysema is a long-term disease of the lungs characterized by the destruction of lung tissues and the loss of their elasticity. It is considered to be under the group of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD) common among smokers and factory workers.

How it Progresses

The lungs are made up of individual air sacs known as alveoli. The alveoli are extremely flexible, allowing them to expand and contract as they get filled or release air respectively. These sacs are responsible for absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide.

There are certain chemicals that can affect the elasticity of the alveoli, with the most common being nicotine in cigarette smoke. If the alveoli lose their elasticity, they have difficulty in absorbing and releasing air. Thus, the patient often feels like his lungs are heavy and full and difficulty of breathing ensues.

Occupational Emphysema is simply Emphysema obtained through work. It is often caused by the inhalation of harsh chemical fumes. These fumes harden the thin walls of the alveolar sacs, causing them to collapse.

Signs and Symptoms

Emphysema patients often experience shortness of breath and difficulty of breathing. This is mostly evident when the patient tries to perform physical activities such as walking or lifting.

Over time, the patients struggle to breathe even while at rest. Upon inspection of their blood, the saturation of oxygen begins to fall below 90% (95%-100% is the normal level). This requires administration of oxygen through masks or tubes.

The patient may also experience erratic or rapid breathing patterns. In severe cases, patients may exhibit a change in the diameters of their chests known as “barrel chest”. They also have bluish finger and toe nails, lips and skin. This is a clear sign of poor oxygen circulation.


Emphysema is a permanent condition and has no known treatment. If diagnosed, doctors can only recommend medications that can address the patient’s symptoms. For instance, as mentioned above, those with low oxygen saturations are administered with oxygen therapy.

Medications such as bronchodilators and anticholinergics are also given to patients either orally or through inhalation. These medications prevent the inflammation and spasm of the lungs and bronchi, thus facilitating breathing.

Because Emphysema can expose a patient to pneumonia and other lung infections, patients are given flu shots and are advised to increase their immunity through the intake of vitamins.  Exposure to people with cough and colds must also be minimized.

Statistics and Claims

Majority of Emphysema cases in the UK are diagnosed in later life. Studies have shown that 15% of all COPD cases are work-related and that in Great Britain, work-related COPD causes around 4,000 deaths per year.

Workers diagnosed with Emphysema can make successful claims if they can prove that the company was unable to provide adequate protective clothes and equipment. This can be confirmed by presenting the company’s work accident book – a log containing the risks, accidents and injuries faced by the workers on a daily basis.

Workers must also keep receipts of expenses accumulated due to the disease. These will help with the compensation award for special damages. The aim is to return the patient back to his financial status prior to the development of the disease.

Claimants are only given a 2-3 year window for making compensation claims. For Emphysema, the period begins on the patient’s Date of Knowledge. During that time frame, patients must work fast with injury claim solicitors in order to make successful claims before the window expires.