What to Know About a Pulmonary Contusion?

Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on March 08, 2024
2 min read

A pulmonary contusion or lung contusion is a bruise in or on your lungs caused by blunt force to the chest. It is different than the tearing of lung tissue because a pulmonary contusion doesn’t affect the structure of the airways. This can be compared to the difference between a bruise to your skin and an open, bleeding wound.

Any sort of force that hits your lungs can cause a pulmonary contusion. Whether you are slammed into a car’s steering wheel or simply fall, the blow can reach your lungs and do damage. Seventy percent of all lung contusions happen as a result of traffic incidents. 

Some things that increase your risk of a pulmonary contusion are:

  • Contact sports
  • Failure to use seatbelts
  • Health issues that limit your mobility and cause falls
  • Violence 
  • Medicines like blood thinners

Severe trauma bruises the lungs. Bruised lungs can't absorb oxygen the way they need to. The larger the bruise, the less oxygen gets to the blood. 

Some things that look like pulmonary contusions but aren’t include:

  • Pulmonary lacerations
  • Collapsed lungs
  • Asthma Attacks
  • Rib fractures

Symptoms of pulmonary contusions may include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Pain
  • Blood clotting
  • Excessive bronchial fluid 
  • Coughing up blood 
  • Wheezing
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Bluish skin

Pulmonary contusion symptoms may be immediate or could take much longer to feel. Your doctor may recommend a chest radiograph and a CT scan to assess the damage. 

Most lung contusions go away on their own within a week.

For more severe cases in which a person’s breathing is affected, oxygen or even ventilation may be needed. Those with severe pulmonary contusions may have too much fluid on the lungs or may require extra fluids. Medical treatment is designed to keep the person from hypoventilating and to relieve pain. 

If you have been hospitalized for a severe pulmonary contusion, when you are discharged you should know:

  • How to control your cough so that you can clear mucus and fluid out of your lungs
  • How to use your incentive spirometer, a handheld device that helps you take deep breaths 

Take prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication recommended by your doctor‌.

Lung contusions can go away on their own, but they can also be fatal. It is important to seek medical help if you feel lingering pain. Lung contusions can often be misdiagnosed, which can cause far-reaching consequences like tissue damage, permanent lung damage, and death.