In and out. In and out. No matter what you're doing, your lungs are always moving air to every organ and cell. Breathing is something you do without a thought, yet it’s vital to every part of our body.
Ribs provide protection, but lung injuries can occur. Trauma causes fluid (and often air) to leak into the lungs. When this happens, your lungs can't give your body the oxygen it needs to survive.
What Causes Lung Injuries?
The causes of lung injuries fall into two categories: direct or indirect.
Direct lung injuries can be brought on by:
- Aspiration (breathing stomach contents into the lung)
- Bruising from trauma, like a car accident
- High altitude
- Severe pneumonia
- Smoke inhalation from a fire
Indirect lung injuries can result from:
- Blood transfusions
- Drug overdose
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Reactions to medicine
- Severe infection (sepsis)
- History of lung and stem cell transportation
Am I at Risk?
Doctors can’t really tell who’ll develop lung injuries. But they’ve pinpointed some things that can increase your risk. They include:
- A history of smoking cigarettes
- Alcohol abuse
- A pre-existing lung condition that requires the use of oxygen
- A recent high-risk surgery
- Low protein in the blood
What Are the Symptoms?
Depending on the cause of the lung injury, symptoms can be mild or intense. Look for these warning signs:
- Bluish coloring around nails and lips, which means there’s a lack of oxygen in the blood
- Chest pain, often when you inhale
- Fast heart rate
- Shortness of breath
Get emergency medical help for any of these symptoms.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Most of the time, doctors find lung injuries after patients have been admitted to the hospital for trauma or illness.
There's no specific test to identify lung injuries. After checking your symptoms and vital signs, your doctor may order a chest X-ray. This will determine the amount of fluid in different parts of your lungs. Since lung injuries and heart problems often share symptoms, this test can also show if your heart is enlarged.
You may also have a CT scan. That’ll give doctors a better look at your heart and lungs.
Using blood from an artery (in your wrist, elbow, or groin), doctors can check your oxygen level. Other blood tests can show if you have an infection or anemia (low red blood cell count).
How Is It Treated?
The goal is to give the body as much support as possible so the lung can heal. Organs need oxygen to work well. If you have mild lung injuries, you may receive oxygen through a mask or through a tube called a nasal cannula. If your injuries are more serious, you’ll need a breathing machine to force air into the lungs and push fluid out.
Depending on the injury, doctors will position you on your back or face-down. This can improve oxygen levels in the blood.
You may receive medication for pain, infections, clots or gastric reflux. If you're on a breathing machine, you might be uncomfortable and restless. Your doctor may give you drugs to help you keep still and calm.
What Does Recovery Look Like?
Whether it's mild or severe, any injury to the lung is serious. Younger patients and those whose injuries were caused by trauma or blood infusions often have a better chance at recovery.
Even after treatment, weakness can be an issue. Follow these tips to keep your lungs as healthy and strong as possible:
- Don't smoke or breathe in secondhand smoke
- Avoid alcohol
- Keep up with vaccinations. You may prevent future lung infections by getting all of your COVID-19 boosters and your yearly flu shot. Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia shot, as well.