Congenital Lobar Emphysema

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Congenital Lobar Emphysema


Congenital lobar emphysema is a chronic disease that causes respiratory distress in infants.


Congenital lobar emphysema, also called infantile lobar emphysema, is a respiratory disease that occurs in infants when air enters the lungs but cannot leave easily. The lungs become over-inflated, causing respiratory function to decrease and air to leak out into the space around the lungs.

Half of the cases of congenital lobar emphysema occur in the first four weeks of life, and three-quarters occur in infants less than six months old. Congenital lobar emphysema is more common in boys than in girls.

Each person has two lungs, right and left. The right lung is divided into three sections, called lobes, and the left lung into two lobes. Congenital lobar emphysema usually affects only one lobe, and this is usually an upper lobe. It occurs most frequently in the left upper lobe, followed by the right middle lobe.

Causes and symptoms

The cause of congenital lobar emphysema often cannot be identified. The airway may be obstructed or the infant's lungs may not have developed properly. Congenital lobar emphysema is almost never of genetic origin.

Symptoms of congenital lobar emphysema include:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • lips and fingernail beds that have a bluish tinge


Congenital lobar emphysema is usually identified within the first two weeks of the infant's life. It is diagnosed by respiratory symptoms and a chest x ray, which shows the over-inflation of the affected lobe and may show a blocked air passage.


For infants with no, mild, or intermittent symptoms, no treatment is necessary. For more serious cases of congenital lobar emphysema, surgery is necessary, usually a lobectomy to remove the affected lung lobe.

Alternative treatment

Alternative treatments that may be helpful for congenital lobar emphysema are aimed at supporting and strengthening the patient's respiratory function. Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be recommended as may herbal remedies such as lobelia (Lobelia inflata ) that strengthen the lungs and enhance their elasticity. Homeopathic constitutional care may also be beneficial for this condition.


Congenital A disease or condition that is present at birth.

Emphysema A condition in which the air sacs in the lungs become overinflated, causing a decrease in respiratory function.

Lobar Relating to a lobe, a rounded projecting part of the lungs.


Surgery for congenital lobar emphysema has excellent results.


Congenital lobar emphysema cannot be prevented.



American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. (800) 586-4872.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 251-1222.

National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine. 1400 Jackson St., Denver, CO 80206. (800) 222-5864.