You can have emphysema for many years without noticing any signs or symptoms. The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, which usually begins gradually. You may start avoiding activities that cause you to be short of breath, so the symptom doesn't become a problem until it starts interfering with daily tasks. Emphysema eventually causes shortness of breath even while you're at rest.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you've had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, especially if it's getting worse or it's interfering with your daily activities. Don't try to attribute it to your deconditioning or age or weight. Seek immediate medical attention if:
- You're so short of breath, you can't climb stairs
- Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray with exertion
- You're not mentally alert