A bruised lung often occurs after a blow to the chest. The blunt impact can damage blood vessels, causing blood and fluid to build up in your lungs. Too much fluid in your lungs can reduce the amount of oxygen your body receives. A pulmonary contusion is the most common injury to the lung in people who experience blunt trauma to the chest.

A bruised lung is also called a pulmonary contusion. Left unchecked, bruised lungs can have life-threatening consequences. A pulmonary contusion is the result of injury to the small blood vessels of the lungs. It’s not related to tears in the lung tissue.

Pulmonary contusions are most often the result of a direct blow or trauma to the chest. Car accidents and falls are the most common cause of lung bruising. Sports injuries or physical assaults can be other causes as well. The risks of serious complications are highest when more than 20 percent of the lung has been bruised.

Serious complications include respiratory infections, deep lung infections, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). These conditions are often accompanied by low oxygen levels as well.

Depending on the amount of lung tissue that has been bruised, the lungs can take days or weeks to heal. If the initial pain has not improved after a few days, schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss treatment.

A pulmonary contusion often shows few symptoms in the beginning. Pain is the most common symptom. If your pain is not improving or getting worse within three days or is accompanied by shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.

Signs and symptoms you may experience with a bruised lung can include:

More severe signs and symptoms of a pulmonary contusion can include:

Any of these symptoms should prompt you to seek immediate medical care.

Blunt impact to the chest can bruise your lungs and cause a number of other problems. Common injuries that can occur alongside a lung contusion include:

  • broken ribs
  • lung tear or laceration
  • broken bones of the spine
  • blood in the chest cavity (hemothorax)
  • collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
  • injuries to abdominal organs

Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Doctors will check your symptoms and may order a number of tests to determine how much fluid, if any, has entered into your lungs. These tests can also identify any additional injuries occurring alongside a bruised lung.

Some tests doctors may use to check the extent of your injuries include:

The primary goal of treatment is to increase oxygen flow and reduce pain. Time is needed for the lung tissue to heal. There is no specific medication or treatment currently known to speed up the healing process of a lung contusion.

Doctors typically recommend oxygen therapy to ease breathing. If you are unable to breathe on your own, they may put you on a ventilator to assist your lungs in breathing regularly.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication to reduce pain and bruising to the lungs. If there is any fluid in your lungs, you may need a variety of treatments, including breathing support such as BiPap or CPAP to increase oxygen flow.

Once you’re home, deep breathing exercises can improve airflow through your lungs and help speed your recovery.

An intense blow to the chest or sudden impact can cause a bruised lung (pulmonary contusion). Pain and injury can range from minor to severe. If accompanied by shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention. Any significant trauma to the chest, such as a car accident or fall, should be evaluated in the emergency room to assess the extent of injury.

Left unchecked, a pulmonary contusion can cause life-threatening complications. Discuss your concerns with your doctor.