What does fluid on the lung feel like?
When excess fluid on the lung is present inside the lung tissues the person affected finds it very difficult to breath and is usually pale, or even blue. They are usually distressed and very anxious and it is common to also feel sick and be ‘in a cold sweat’. The body reacts to fluid on the lung by trying to cough it out, particularly in the early stages. People with pulmonary oedema often produce characteristic frothy and pink sputum.
Having excess fluid in the pleural cavity causes much less extreme effects. Some people with this form of fluid on the lung don’t have any obvious breathing difficulties or pain but they might have a fever if pneumonia is the root cause. Because pleural effusion is a symptom in itself, the signs of fluid on the lung may be masked by more serious symptoms that affect other organ systems.
Treating fluid on the lung: pulmonary oedema
Emergency treatment is essential to reduce the fluid on the lung and can be life saving. Oxygen or artificial ventilation, drugs to treat underlying heart failure and improve heart function, diuretics to treat fluid retention and surgery to replace a faulty heart valve, or even the whole heart may be necessary.
In severe cases, this high intensity medical care to help resolve the cause of the excess fluid on the lung may turn into more palliative care to try to make someone as comfortable as possible as they face the end of their life. Around 40% of people with severe pulmonary oedema die in hospital.
Treating fluid on the lung: pleural effusion
Small amounts of fluid on the lung can be monitored but often don’t need specific treatment if the underlying condition is managed successfully. If antibiotics start to clear up a lung infection, or kidney disease is treated by dialysis, for example, this type of fluid on the lung tends to disappear on its own. If there is a lot of fluid and it is causing problems, it can be drained by putting a thin tube through the chest wall and sometimes talcum powder is used to help the pleural membranes stick together again.