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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Lung Injuries

A lung injury can occur in many ways. A car accident could cause a harmful blow and a punctured lung. Or lungs can become injured from inhaling harmful chemicals. A lung injury can even occur while being treated in the hospital for an infection or while on a ventilator. If you or someone you love has an injured lung, you may want to understand better how it occurred and what your health care providers are doing to help.

Causes of Lung Injuries

There are two main types of lung injuries: direct and indirect.

Direct lung injuries are caused by infections, chemicals, and trauma that directly affect the lung, including:

  • Pneumonia, a severe lung infection
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a type of pneumonia
  • Pulmonary aspiration, the inhalation of vomit or salt water, such as from a near drowning
  • Inhalation of harmful smoke or fumes
  • Trauma to the lung, such as puncture wounds
  • Ventilators, machines that help people breathe, but can sometimes injure the lungs

An indirect lung injury is caused by another condition elsewhere in the body. These include:

  • Sepsis, where bacteria infect the bloodstream.
  • Severe bleeding from an injury or multiple blood transfusions.
  • Major trauma, such as a severe blow to the chest or head during a car accident.
  • Acute pancreatitis, a condition in which the pancreas (a gland that releases enzymes and hormones) becomes irritated or infected.
  • Fat embolism, a condition in which fat blocks an artery, which can result from a physical injury such as a broken bone.
  • Drug overdose
  • Severe burns

A lung injury can cause a collapsed lung or develop into acute respiratory distress syndrome -- two potentially life-threatening conditions.

What Is a Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)?

When the muscles of the chest and diaphragm contract they expand the chest, causing the lungs to inflate. Like a balloon, the lungs stretch as they inflate. When you exhale, the muscles relax, and like a balloon that's been released the lungs spring back. But if the air escapes from the lung and into the chest around the lung, the lung can collapse inside the chest. This can occur from the bursting of a weak spot of the lung, either from another medical condition, infection, or cancer. Or it could be caused by a puncture of the lung such as from a fractured rib.

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