Have you, or someone you know, ever experienced a sensation of itchiness in your lungs? This is usually a symptom triggered by an environmental irritant or a medical lung condition. The term “itchy lungs” has become a catchall term for conditions that have similar symptoms.
Environmental causes of itchy lungs
- cold, dry air
- chemical fumes
Medical causes of itchy lungs
- allergies caused by pollen, pet dander, cockroaches, and mold
- infections that attack the respiratory system such as the common cold
- certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen
Physical and psychological causes of itchy lungs
Commonly, itchy lungs appear alongside other symptoms that are typical of the underlying cause of the discomfort. Those symptoms might include:
The first step in treating itchy lungs is to determine the cause. If it’s easy to determine, you can take some simple steps to address the situation. If the cause is not obvious, make an appointment with your doctor for a full diagnosis so you can receive appropriate treatment.
Steps you can take on your own include:
- Remove or protect yourself from likely external causes such as smoke, chemical fumes, or cold, dry air.
- Avoid allergy-causing substances.
- Keep your living area clean and well-ventilated.
- Wash pillowcases and sheets frequently.
- Avoid physical overexertion.
- Find ways to relax and de-stress.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper hydration.
If these steps do not positively impact the itchy sensation in your lungs, make an appointment with your doctor to see if your itchy lungs are caused by allergies, asthma, or another medical condition.
If you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter antihistamine such as:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra), levocetirizine (Xyzal)
- loratadine (Claritin, Alavert)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Additionally, there are antihistamines available by prescription which your doctor may prescribe such as:
If warranted, your doctor might prescribe a stronger course of action such as:
- omalizumab (Xolair)
- allergy shots (immunotherapy)
If you’re diagnosed with asthma, your doctor might create an asthma action plan that may include tracking your symptoms and prescription medications such as:
- inhaled corticosteroids, such as fluticasone (Flovent), budesonide (Pulmicort), or beclomethasone (Qvar)
- leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate), or zileuton (Zyflo)
- long-acting beta-2 agonists, such as salmeterol (Serevent) or formoterol (Foradil)
- combination inhalers, such as fluticasone-salmeterol (Advair Diskus), budesonide-formoterol (Symbicort), or formoterol-mometasone (Dulera)
- theophylline (Theo-24, Elixophyllin), which is not as commonly used as other options
The sensation of itchy lungs is not uncommon. Often, it’s a symptom of an underlying cause that can be easily determined.
If the cause is environmental, emotional, or related to physical overexertion, you might be able to address it on your own with some simple and easy steps. Itchy lungs, however, could be a symptom of a more serious condition such as asthma. If the cause is medical, you’ll need to see your doctor.