Inflammation is the process in which the body’s immune system deals with infection, injury, and harmful substances. Lung inflammation may happen in one or both lungs and in different areas of the lungs. It may also be caused by other health conditions, stress, or allergens.

Lung inflammation can happen from infectious causes, such as pneumonia caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses, and noninfectious causes, such as pneumonitis, or a type of allergic reaction.

This inflammation can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-standing). Acute inflammation happens suddenly and resolves in a few days to weeks. Chronic lung inflammation can happen gradually and take 6 weeks or longer to recover.

In some cases, your immune system can attack healthy cells, which leads to chronic inflammation. This may happen if you have an autoimmune condition such as asthma.

Treatments for lung inflammation vary based on the cause of the inflammation, whether it’s acute or chronic, and the severity of your condition. Medications may help with inflammation or manage other related symptoms, such as pain, breathing difficulties, infection, congestion, or fever.

Some chronic forms of lung inflammation (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD) or autoimmune disorders (asthma) are not curable, but there are treatments available to manage or relieve symptoms if taken regularly.

A doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about the uses, side effects, and other important information about these medications for lung-related conditions.

Some examples of available medications include:

  • Antibiotics: treat bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotics may be prescribed orally or intravenously at a clinic or hospital for more serious bacterial lung infections. Examples include azithromycin (Zithromax), clarithromycin (Biaxin), levofloxacin, and amoxicillin.
  • Antifungals: treat fungal lung infections caused by Histoplasma capsulatum, Aspergillus fungus, or other fungal spores. Medications include ketoconazole, itraconazole, amphotericin B, voriconazole, and others.
  • Corticosteroids: reduce inflammation and tamp down your body’s immune response to help manage various symptoms. Examples include cortisone, prednisone, fluticasone (Flonase). They’re available in different forms (oral, injection, inhaler).
  • Bronchodilators: help relax airway muscles to improve breathing for asthma or COPD. Examples include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA) and salmeterol (Serevent Diskus). They’re available in different forms, including tablets, inhalers, nebulizer solution, and syrup.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: either limit or block the effects of leukotrienes, which helps improve breathing and wheezing in asthma. Examples include montelukast (Singulair), zileuton (Zyflo, Zyflo CR), and zafirlukast (Accolate).
  • Biologic medications: made from living cells. They work to reduce your body’s inflammatory response by helping with chronic symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. They’re used when other medications haven’t worked for conditions such as asthma or COPD. Examples include mepolizumab (Nucala), omalizumab (Xolair), and dupilumab (Dupixent).
  • Roflumilast (Daliresp): relieves inflammation and helps with airflow to the lungs
  • Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers: available over the counter to help with mild symptoms of lung inflammation, such as fever, body aches, and pain. Examples include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen. Don’t use any over-the-counter (OTC) products without first consulting a doctor about your symptoms.

First, a doctor will need to diagnose the cause of your lung inflammation, then they’ll prescribe medications or other types of treatments depending on your condition.

Medications to treat chronic lung inflammation, such as asthma or COPD, are available by prescription from a doctor. Once you get a prescription, you can visit your local pharmacy to buy your medication.

The cost of your medication depends on if you have insurance, the particular pharmacy you visit, days’ supply, and other factors. Be sure to shop around for the best price for your medication.

For serious bacterial or fungal infections, a doctor may prescribe a medication to take at home, or you may receive the medication intravenously in the hospital.

With mild cases of temporary lung inflammation due to viral causes or other concerns, a doctor may recommend OTC treatments or home therapy to manage your symptoms. They may include cough suppressants and acetaminophen to manage fever, headache, and pain.

If your symptoms continue with treatment, be sure to call a doctor. They’ll be able to discuss your diagnosis and follow-up care. Remember, if lung inflammation is left untreated, it can progress to chronic lung issues.

There are several other types of treatments for lung inflammation. A doctor may recommend other options based on your symptoms and the severity of your condition.

Alternative treatments include:

  • Oxygen therapy: can be used to help you breathe in some cases of serious lung inflammation. If you have COPD or other chronic lung inflammation, a doctor may prescribe portable home oxygen therapy.
  • Surgery: can be an option if you have inflammation due to COPD, lung cancer, or cystic fibrosis. A doctor may discuss the benefits and risks of surgery or a lung transplant with you.
  • Physical therapy: can help relieve pressure and loosen mucus from the lungs, making it easier to breathe.
  • A humidifier: can help loosen mucus and improve cough. Be sure to ask a doctor for recommendations and the best way to use and clean a humidifier. Dirty humidifiers can hold germs that can harm your lungs, cause infections, and worsen lung inflammation.

Other remedies to soothe temporary mild lung inflammation include:

  • drinking green tea
  • gargling with salt water
  • eating nutritious foods
  • drinking plenty of water
  • resting to recover

Lung inflammation may be caused or worsened by an infection or injury that’s untreated or if you have a pre-existing lung disorder. It can lead to long-term lung issues.

Some causes of lung inflammation include:

  • Cystic fibrosis: a genetic condition that causes lung damage and breathing difficulties, infections, and other symptoms
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS): a severe type of acute lung injury caused by trauma, infection, or other toxin exposure. ARDS causes fluid to fill up in the air sacs in your lungs, which reduces oxygen levels in your body. This is a medical emergency.
  • Asthma: a common condition that causes lung inflammation and may be triggered by weather, exercise, allergens, and other factors. It causes tightness and swelling of air passages, making it hard to breathe.
  • COPD: a group of chronic lung conditions, including emphysema (damage to air sacs) and chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes), which make it hard to breathe. Lung inflammation and damage occur from repeated exposure to irritants and toxins.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome: an autoimmune condition that can cause lung inflammation, dry skin, joint pain, and fatigue
  • Toxin exposure: causes lung inflammation and damage, such as popcorn lung

Some examples of infectious lung inflammation include:

There are many tests a doctor can use to diagnose lung inflammation. The doctor will discuss your symptoms and types of tests with you.

The types of tests include:

Lung inflammation symptoms can vary depending on the cause and severity of the inflammation.

Some general symptoms include:

  • cough
  • congestion
  • chest tightness and pain when breathing
  • fever
  • body aches
  • low blood pressure
  • lack of appetite
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • wheezing
  • unintended weight loss
  • trouble sleeping

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, fever, persistent cough, or other lung inflammation symptoms, call a doctor’s office. A doctor can discuss your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

They may recommend:

  • COVID-19 testing
  • blood tests or other diagnostic tests
  • self-isolation
  • going to a hospital
  • certain medications

If you’re experiencing severe breathing difficulty, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room right away.

Can I buy medication over the counter?

Yes, some medications to help manage mild symptoms are available over the counter. These include acetaminophen, NSAIDs, common cough and cold products, soothing teas, and more. Be sure to speak with a doctor before taking any OTC products, including supplements, herbs, or vitamins.

How effective are medications?

Medications to treat causes of lung inflammation are effective depending on your specific condition and how soon you receive treatment. For types of chronic lung inflammation, it’s important to take your medication regularly.

A doctor will monitor your condition and change your dosage or treatment if needed. They’ll discuss your treatment options and the most effective medications for your condition.

Is lung inflammation contagious?

Yes, some causes of lung inflammation are contagious. Infectious causes of lung inflammation from bacteria (pneumonia, tuberculosis) or viruses (influenza, COVID-19) are contagious. Other forms caused by autoimmune or genetic causes of lung inflammation aren’t contagious.

A doctor will diagnose your condition and discuss your treatment plans, including if you need to isolate from others (COVID-19), what medications to take, and how long your condition may last.

There are several causes for lung inflammation. Most acute causes are temporary and can be managed with various treatment options like rest and at-home care. But some types of infectious lung inflammation can be serious and require treatment with antibiotics and other medications.

Chronic lung inflammation can be debilitating and require lifelong management. It’s important to talk with a doctor about your risks of certain chronic conditions, such as asthma or COPD.

If you’re having trouble breathing or have other symptoms of lung inflammation, talk with a doctor. They can help diagnose your condition and determine a treatment plan.