Can You Bruise Your Lungs Illustration

Can You Bruise Your Lungs? (2024)

by | Updated: Jun 27, 2024

Have you ever found yourself coughing so hard that your chest feels like it went through a boxing match, leaving you wondering, “Can I actually bruise my lungs?

It’s a question that might sound a bit out there, but it’s rooted in genuine concern about our respiratory health.

Lung bruising, or pulmonary contusion, to be more specific, is a condition that’s not as outlandish as it sounds. It’s about the insides of our chest taking a hit, whether from physical trauma or other less direct impacts.

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly happens when your lungs take a hit, how it affects your body, and what signs might indicate that your lungs are, indeed, bruised.

Can You Bruise Your Lungs?

Yes, the lungs can sustain a contusion or “bruise” due to blunt trauma to the chest, such as in car accidents or falls. A lung contusion refers to bleeding and swelling within the lung tissue. This can cause difficulty in breathing and reduced oxygen exchange. Immediate medical attention is necessary if one suspects a lung contusion.

Bruised Lungs Vector Illustration

What is a Pulmonary Contusion?

A pulmonary contusion refers to bleeding and swelling within the lung tissue caused by a direct blow or blunt trauma to the chest.

This injury disrupts the lung’s ability to oxygenate blood efficiently.

Commonly resulting from car accidents, falls, or sports injuries, a pulmonary contusion can lead to respiratory distress and decreased oxygen levels in the blood.

Timely medical assessment and intervention are crucial, as severe contusions can be life-threatening if not addressed properly.

What Causes a Bruised Lung?

A bruised lung is caused by a direct blow or blunt trauma to the chest. This trauma leads to bleeding and swelling within the lung tissue.

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Car Accidents: The force of impact, especially in high-speed collisions, can result in a lung contusion.
  • Falls: Landing hard on the chest, especially from a significant height, can cause bruising to the lungs.
  • Sports Injuries: Contact sports or any activity where there’s a risk of a hard blow to the chest can lead to lung contusions.
  • Assault: Being struck or beaten on the chest can result in a lung contusion.
  • Compression Injuries: Situations where the chest is squeezed or compressed with significant force, like being trapped or crushed under an object, can bruise the lungs.

Note: The severity of a lung contusion can vary based on the force of the trauma and the specific circumstances of the injury. Proper diagnosis and medical intervention are essential, as significant contusions can interfere with oxygen exchange and lead to respiratory distress.

Symptoms of a Bruised Lung

A bruised lung can present with various symptoms, which may range from mild to severe depending on the extent of the injury.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty Breathing: This can range from mild shortness of breath to severe respiratory distress.
  • Chest Pain: Especially when taking deep breaths or coughing.
  • Cough: This can sometimes produce bloody or frothy pink sputum.
  • Cyanosis: A bluish tint to the skin, lips, or fingernails, indicating a lack of adequate oxygen in the blood.
  • Decreased Oxygen Saturation: Lower than normal levels of oxygen in the blood, which can be measured using a pulse oximeter.
  • Rapid Heart Rate: Tachycardia may occur as the body tries to compensate for reduced oxygen.
  • Wheezing or Crackles: Audible when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.
  • Fatigue or Dizziness: Due to decreased oxygen delivery to tissues.
  • Chest Tightness or Pressure: Feeling as though the chest is being squeezed.

Note: If someone suspects they have a bruised lung or exhibits these symptoms after chest trauma, they should seek medical attention immediately. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and aid recovery.


The treatment for a bruised lung is primarily supportive, aiming to ensure that the patient can breathe properly and that oxygen levels in the blood remain adequate.

Some specific treatment options include:

  • Oxygen Therapy: Providing supplemental oxygen helps maintain adequate oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Pain Management: Pain relief is crucial to allow patients to breathe deeply and cough, which helps clear secretions and prevents pneumonia. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids might be prescribed.
  • Positive Pressure Ventilation: In more severe cases, particularly if the patient is struggling to breathe, mechanical ventilation may be required. This involves intubation and the use of a ventilator to assist with or control breathing.
  • Chest Physiotherapy: This involves techniques like percussion or vibration to help loosen and remove secretions from the lungs.
  • Respiratory Monitoring: Regular checks of blood oxygen levels using pulse oximetry and arterial blood gases help assess the lung’s functionality and guide treatment.
  • Fluid Management: Careful management of intravenous fluids is essential. Overhydration can exacerbate lung injury, while dehydration can thicken pulmonary secretions.
  • Antibiotics: While not routinely given, they may be prescribed if there’s a risk or evidence of a bacterial infection.
  • Frequent Repositioning: This helps in mobilizing secretions and prevents them from accumulating in one part of the lung.
  • Surgery: In cases where the injury is combined with other thoracic injuries like a pneumothorax or hemothorax, surgical intervention might be necessary.

Note: It’s crucial to identify and treat a pulmonary contusion promptly. Long-term follow-up may be required, especially if there was significant injury to ensure the lung heals properly and to monitor for any complications.

How to Prevent a Bruised Lung

Preventing a bruised lung revolves around minimizing the risk of blunt chest trauma.

Some general precautions and measures include:

  • Seat Belts and Car Safety: Always wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a car. Ensure that children are in appropriate car seats or booster seats. Advanced airbags also reduce injury during accidents.
  • Protective Gear: In contact sports or recreational activities where chest impact is possible, wear protective chest gear or padding.
  • Safe Work Practices: For jobs involving heights or heavy machinery, always use safety harnesses, and follow guidelines to avoid accidents.
  • Home Safety: Reduce fall risks at home, especially for the elderly. This includes removing trip hazards, installing handrails in bathrooms, and ensuring adequate lighting.
  • Safety Training: Proper training for activities like cycling, skateboarding, and horseback riding can teach techniques to minimize injury during a fall or collision.
  • Avoid Risky Behavior: High-risk behaviors like driving under the influence, texting while driving, or engaging in aggressive physical confrontations increase the likelihood of chest trauma.
  • Regular Vehicle Maintenance: Ensuring brakes, tires, and other essential safety components of vehicles are in good condition can prevent accidents.
  • Awareness: Being mindful of your surroundings, especially in environments where there’s a potential for falling or colliding, can prevent many accidents.
  • Strength and Balance Training: For older adults, exercises that improve strength and balance can reduce the risk of falls.
  • Bone Health: Ensuring good bone health, particularly in post-menopausal women, can prevent rib fractures that might contribute to lung injuries.

Note: While it’s impossible to avoid all risks, proactive measures and safety consciousness can significantly reduce the chances of sustaining a pulmonary contusion.

FAQs About Bruised Lungs

How Long Does it Take to Heal a Bruised Lung?

The healing time for a pulmonary contusion can vary based on its severity. Mild contusions may begin to improve within a few days and heal completely in a couple of weeks.

More severe contusions can take several weeks to months for a full recovery.

How Do You Know if Your Lungs Are Bruised?

Symptoms of a bruised lung can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing (sometimes with bloody or frothy pink sputum)
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, or fingernails)
  • Decreased oxygen saturation
  • Wheezing or crackles heard when breathing

How Can Doctors Diagnose a Bruised Lung?

Doctors typically diagnose a pulmonary contusion using imaging tests.

A chest X-ray can reveal the contusion, but a CT scan provides more detailed information.

Physical examination, patient history, and listening to the lungs with a stethoscope can also support the diagnosis.

What Does a Bruised Lung Feel Like?

A bruised lung can cause pain or discomfort in the chest, especially when taking deep breaths or coughing. This pain may be sharp or achy.

Breathing may feel labored, and there can be a sensation of tightness or pressure in the chest.

Can You Bruise Your Lungs from Coughing Too Hard?

While prolonged and severe coughing can strain the muscles of the chest wall and potentially cause rib fractures, it’s unlikely to cause a pulmonary contusion directly.

However, a fractured rib from coughing can potentially injure the lung and cause a contusion.

Can You Bruise Your Lungs from Throwing Up?

Vomiting with extreme force can lead to various complications, including muscle strain, small tears in the esophagus, or even rib fractures.

But directly bruising the lungs from vomiting is uncommon.

If a rib is fractured due to severe vomiting, there’s a possibility it could injure the lung, leading to a contusion.

Can You Bruise Your Lungs During Exercise?

Under normal circumstances, routine exercise will not lead to a bruised lung.

However, high-intensity or contact sports, where there’s potential for chest trauma, can result in a pulmonary contusion if there’s a direct blow to the chest.

Will a Bruised Lung Show Up on a CT Scan?

Yes, a CT scan (computed tomography) is one of the most definitive imaging tools for diagnosing a bruised lung.

It provides detailed images and can reveal the presence and extent of the contusion, offering more clarity than a standard chest X-ray.

Can a Bruised Lung Heal on Its Own?

Yes, mild pulmonary contusions can heal on their own with rest and supportive care.

However, it’s crucial to have any suspected lung injury assessed by a medical professional to ensure that the condition doesn’t worsen and to receive appropriate treatment.

Is a Bruised Lung Life-Threatening?

A bruised lung can be life-threatening, especially if it’s severe or left untreated. Complications such as respiratory distress, decreased oxygen levels in the blood, and potential infection can arise.

Timely medical intervention and monitoring are essential to prevent severe outcomes and ensure proper recovery.

Final Thoughts

While the concept of a “bruised lung” might sound unusual, lung contusions are a real and serious result of blunt chest trauma.

Recognizing the symptoms and seeking timely medical attention is essential.

As with many medical issues, prevention and awareness are key to safeguarding one’s health against such injuries.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.