The lungs, as the respiratory organ of the body, fulfil a vital task, and this without a break. It is all the more quickly and unpleasantly noticeable when this function is no longer or only insufficiently fulfilled: Shortness of breath becomes noticeable, i.e. the feeling of not getting any air or bad air. Breathing becomes deeper and more strenuous in order to be able to absorb enough oxygen.
There are many different causes for these and other symptoms. One of them may be that fluid has accumulated in the alveoli. In medical terminology, this is known as pulmonary oedema.
Pulmonary oedema typically develops over a period of hours or several days, not “overnight”. Nevertheless, if there are signs that fluid has accumulated in the alveoli, action should be taken quickly to restore the person’s ability to breathe. You can get an overview of lung diseases here: Disease of the lungs
Overview of the typical symptoms
Breathlessness Anxiety and restlessness caused by breathing Coughing, possibly with colourless, transparent sputum Rattling or bubbling noises when breathing Pale or bluish skin colour (especially face and lips) Fast pulse, palpitations and palpitations Pain in the chest or upper body
- Shortness of breath
- Anxiety and restlessness caused by breathlessness
- Cough, possibly with colourless, transparent sputum
- Rattling or bubbling noises when breathing
- Pale or bluish skin colour (especially face and lips)
- Fast pulse, palpitations and palpitations
- Chest or upper body pain
Shortness of breath is a common symptom in both heart and lung complaints and is therefore unspecific. Nevertheless, shortness of breath should be investigated and treated quickly, especially if it occurs suddenly or rapidly worsens. Breathlessness generally occurs when the brain registers less oxygen supply than necessary.
In lung diseases, this occurs when a certain part of the lung is not available for gas exchange. This can be the case, for example, with structural changes in the lung tissue or the respiratory tract. But the physical relocation of a section of the lung can also be the cause of shortness of breath.
An accumulation of fluid makes the lower part of the lung unsuitable for breathing: No air can reach the walls of the alveoli here. Since the liquid flows downwards due to gravity, this part of the lung is no longer available for gas exchange. Breathlessness increases accordingly the more fluid is in the lungs and the fewer alveoli are able to breathe.
You can find additional information on the topic of “shortness of breath” under
- Shortness of Breath
- Causes of shortness of breath
- Breathlessness due to heart failure
If there is liquid or secretion in the lungs, the body will try to transport it out as a protective mechanism. Since the lung tissue has a limited ability to absorb fluids, coughing is the only way to restore the function of the lungs. Coughing with transparent and colourless sputum therefore indicates that the fluid level in the lungs has reached a certain level that allows the lungs to transport some of it away.
But even coughing without sputum – in conjunction with other symptoms mentioned here – is a serious indication of an existing pulmonary oedema that requires treatment. If there are no other symptoms together with the cough, finding the cause is already more difficult. A medical consultation should then be sought at the latest if the cough persists for more than a week.
The fluid that is stirred up by breathing causes blisters to form and a rattling or bubbling sound to be heard. This is comparable to a whirlpool: here, too, the air that flows through the water makes the typical “bubbling” sound. It should be noted that this phenomenon must logically be respiratory: so it only occurs during inhalation and exhalation, not between breaths.
The rattling sound can be best heard by placing the ear close to the person concerned or by using a stethoscope. Frothy saliva in front of the mouth can also be an indication of fluid accumulation in the lungs. This is an easy to explain phenomenon in view of the pulmonary oedema: this foam is liquid that is removed from the lungs.
The intensive turbulence caused by coughing and breathing air leads to the formation of abundant blisters, which then become visible as foam. Having foamy fluid in front of the mouth is usually a sign that the fluid level is already higher in the lungs – because the body can only remove fluid from the airways above a certain level. Accordingly, in this situation, medical advice should be sought from your family doctor or the emergency medical service.
Anyone who has ever experienced any kind of shortness of air or breathing difficulties will be able to confirm that restlessness and anxiety are developing. This is a completely natural mechanism of the body when it is noticed that the oxygen supply of the body is insufficient and therefore there is a long-term risk of suffocation. The sympathetic part of the nervous system in the body is then activated, which in turn puts the body on alert.
This includes, among other things, the increase and acceleration of heart and lung function, which on the one hand provides a short-term improvement in the body’s oxygen supply – but on the other hand causes an inner restlessness or nervousness due to the messenger substances released. Finally, increased shortness of breath is also accompanied by anxiety, which of course also leads to psychogenically induced restlessness. The shortness of breath described above can – if left untreated – increase to a feeling of suffocation.
A feeling of suffocation is often accompanied by fear of death and should therefore be treated as soon as possible. Although the lungs are usually never completely filled with fluid, enough capacity can still be covered by the accumulation of fluid that adequate breathing is no longer possible. If an anxiety reaction becomes noticeable through the sensation of suffocation, this is not by chance, but because the body draws attention to the lack of functional lung capacity.
For this reason, the medical emergency service may and should be called in in cases of severe shortness of breath in connection with a feeling of suffocation. First of all: Sudden severe chest pain is always a reason to consult a doctor as soon as possible or to alert the emergency services. It is always worthwhile to be able to describe the pain in more detail: Where exactly does it hurt – is there a specific area or is the pain diffuse?
How does it feel, is it rather sharp or rather dull? How long has the pain existed and how has the intensity of the pain changed since then – if at all? Attention should also be paid to whether the pain occurs in relation to breathing, which would strongly suggest a lung cause.
Fluid in the lungs can also cause pain, which then usually does not start suddenly but slowly and gradually and tends to get stronger. – Pain in the chest
- Chest pain due to chest organs
As described above, the body reacts to a poor oxygen supply by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn puts the body’s own systems on general alert. In evolutionary terms, this served to prepare a “fight or flight” reaction – and the function of this nervous system can be best derived from this archetype: To ensure the best possible oxygen supply, the lung and heart activity is increased.
In addition, the vessels are slightly constricted, which physically accelerates the blood flow and allows the blood to bring oxygen to the body parts even faster. Among other things, the increased heart activity also increases the beat rate. A reduced supply of oxygen to the body thus indirectly causes an increase in the heart rate. You can read additional information here: Increased pulse – At what point is a pulse considered too high?