Pulmonary edema refers to a condition caused by too much fluid in the lungs and is often caused mainly by congestive heart failure, but also by altitude sickness. This is a severe condition that could sometimes cause death. Learn more about pulmonary edema treatment, including tips to help you find the best pulmonologist in Nagercoil.
What Is Pulmonary Edema Treatment?
As earlier said, pulmonary edema is when fluid builds up in the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, dry cough followed by frothy sputum, and loose mucus. Pulmonary edema can be chronic or acute, the latter being life-threatening if not treated promptly.
Some patients experience High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE. As the name suggests, this occurs when you are at a high altitude. HAPE is also life-threatening, and the patient must move down immediately for medical treatment.
Pulmonary edema differs from pneumonia – while both involve fluid buildup in the lungs, the latter is caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. With pneumonia, the organisms fill the lungs with fluid and are much thicker.
It is also different from pleural effusion in the sense that during pleural effusion, the fluid is accumulated outside the lungs, in the pleura, i.e., the lining around the lungs.
Pulmonary Edema Symptoms
One of the most common pulmonary edema symptoms is difficulty in breathing. But other symptoms may vary depending on whether the condition is acute or chronic, or caused by high altitude sickness. Some common pulmonary edema symptoms include:
Patients with acute pulmonary edema complain of shortness of breath that gets worse when lying down, feeling of suffocation, cough that’s accompanied by frothy or bloody sputum, heart palpitations, anxiety, cold skin, wheezing, etc.
Patients with chronic or long-term pulmonary edema complain of breathlessness, especially during sleep, feeling constantly tired, feeling breathless during physical activity, cough, weight gain, swollen feet and ankles, and wheezing.
Patients with HAPE complain of headache, breathlessness, dry cough, fast heartbeat, chest pain, low-grade fever, etc. Unlike the other two conditions, patients with HAPE experience this only at high altitudes.
Irrespective of the above pulmonary edema symptoms, you must consult a doctor immediately if you experience sudden breathlessness, confusion, or dizziness because of low blood pressure or if the skin turns blue or grey.
Pulmonary Edema Causes
Pulmonary edema is often a result of congestive heart failure, a progressive condition where the heart (the left ventricle) cannot pump blood effectively. As a result, blood backs up, causing fluids to build up in the lungs. This is called cardiogenic pulmonary edema and is treated by removing the extra fluid in the lungs. However, the doctor will start supplemental treatment, including medications to expand the blood vessels, correct fluid retention, and beta blockers to improve heart function. Sometimes, the doctor may suggest surgical procedures like open heart or bypass surgeries to correct the blocked arteries.
A surgical procedure is only recommended in severe cases and when the patient is healthy enough for a surgical intervention. In patients with sleep apnea-related heart problems, the doctor may suggest treating sleep apnea. Besides congestive heart failure, cardiogenic edema causes also include – severe increase in blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (rapid or slow heartbeat), severe heart attack, and abnormal heart valve. Patients with kidney diseases related to high blood pressure may also develop pulmonary edema. And so do people diagnose with cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease
Pulmonary edema that is not related to a heart problem is called noncardiogenic edema. It is often caused by Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS, a lung disease caused by fluid buildup in the lungs. Several factors could cause ARDS, including sepsis (severe infection in the bloodstream), inhaling harmful chemical fumes, people who have nearly drowned, inflammation in the pancreas, etc. It must be noted that patients affected by COVID-19 are more likely to develop ARDS, resulting in pulmonary edema.
Besides ARDS, patients with severe pneumonia are likely to suffer from pulmonary edema. Other pulmonary edema causes include drug overdose, blood clots in the lungs, head injury, viral illnesses like dengue, and even inhaling stomach content while vomiting. In India, people exposed to smoke from firewood also develop pneumonia, resulting in pulmonary edema.
Having said that, certain risk factors contribute to pulmonary edema. These include alcohol abuse, smoking(including secondhand smoking), diabetes, sleep apnea, stress and anxiety, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Pulmonary Edema Treatment
Pulmonary edema treatment begins through initial diagnosis. During the consultation, the doctor may conduct a physical examination with a stethoscope, looking for abnormal heartbeats, whistling sounds in the lungs, blood pressure, swelling in the legs, bluish skin, etc. It is believed that your skin is a clear indicator of lung problems. This includes clubbing in the fingers around the joints and reddish bumps on the skin. In addition, the doctor may also prescribe a Complete Blood Count or CBC and measure blood oxygen levels using an oximeter.
Depending on the initial diagnosis and the patient’s condition, they suggest diagnostic tests like chest X-rays, CT scans, ECG, EKG, or a coronary angiogram. In some cases, the doctor may also recommend an ultrasound of the lungs to measure blood flow to the lungs.
Pulmonary edema treatment depends on the results of the diagnostic tests. For instance, if the fluid buildup isn’t severe, they may prescribe diuretics such as Lasix to control pressure caused by fluid buildup in the lungs. Morphines like Infumorph are prescribed when the patient is expressing breathlessness and anxiety. For patients with severe heart failure, the physician may suggest inotropes to improve heart functioning and maintain blood pressure.
The doctor may administer oxygen through nasal cannulas or face masks to improve blood oxygen levels. A breathing tube may be placed in the trachea through a ventilator if necessary. But these are the only treatment options to reduce fluid buildup. The treatment process involves diagnosing what’s causing the edema and treating it without delay. For instance, if the pulmonary edema is caused by heart problems, it will treat right away.
As for pulmonary edema treatment for patients diagnosed with HAPE, the doctor may ensure oxygen supply through a portable hyperbaric chamber until the patient can move to a lower elevation.
Pulmonary Edema Treatment and Prevention
Pulmonary edema treatment can only temporarily remove fluid buildup. The treatment cannot be effective unless the patient adopts lifestyle changes. For instance, for patients with high blood pressure, you must eat less salt and modify your diet. This is also suggested in patients diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Similarly, if you have diabetes, consider maintaining glucose levels. Make sure you aren’t exposed to secondhand smoke and quit if you are a smoker.
Regular exercise helps maintain weight loss and improves metabolism. You must get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 30 minutes of rigorous activity.
You need advice from an experienced pulmonologist in Nagercoil to help you manage your condition and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Visit our lung speciality hospitality in Nagercoil if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above and want to learn more about pulmonary edema.