The lungs have few pain receptors, which means pain in the lungs usually starts elsewhere in the body. Possible causes of left-side lung or chest pain when breathing in include costochondritis and pneumothorax.
However, some lung-related conditions can result in pain in the left lung.
The chest contains several vital organs, including the heart and lungs. Because of this, it is understandable why a person who experiences pain in this area might be worried about what is causing it.
In this article, we take a look at some potential causes of lung pain, and what people should do if they experience this symptom.
Fast facts on left lung pain:
- Left lung pain can be a symptom of many different conditions.
- Symptoms may not be a medical emergency, but they could represent an underlying problem.
- Treatments for left lung pain will depend on the underlying cause.
The following are examples of some of the more common causes of lung pain, including left lung pain:
Chronic coughing and wheezing associated with asthma can cause feelings of chest tightness.
Typically, this will make a person’s chest feel tight on both sides, not just the left.
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the connective tissue that joins a person’s ribs to their breastbone. Costochondritis can cause pain that feels like chest pain, which can be one-sided.
Hyperventilation or rapid breathing can be the result of illness or panic attacks. This condition can affect the natural balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen inside the body.
One of the primary symptoms of hyperventilation is chest pain.
A person may also experience dizziness, headache, and trouble concentrating.
Lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms at first. As lung cancer spreads, a person may notice symptoms such as a chronic cough, shortness of breath, and feeling tired or weak with no known reason.
Pneumothorax is when a portion or all of a lung collapses. This can cause sudden and significant chest pain on the affected side of the chest.
A pneumothorax can occur suddenly or after an injury or illness.
Pleural effusion is a condition where excess fluid builds up inside the lining of the lung, known as the pleural space. This buildup can cause difficulty breathing as well as discomfort on the affected side, which could be the left.
This condition occurs when the two membranes of the chest wall become inflamed. When they rub up against each other, pain and shortness of breath can occur.
When a person has pleurisy, a doctor will do a variety of tests to find the cause. The cause could be a viral infection, trauma, or lupus, which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks a person’s tissues and organs.
Pneumonia is a condition where a person experiences a severe respiratory infection that can affect one or both lungs. If pneumonia affects the left lung, a person may experience pain in the left lung.
Additional symptoms might include a cough, fever, chills, and shortness of breath.
A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blood clot or clots in the arteries of the lungs. A PE can occur after a person has had a surgery or been sedentary for some time.
While some causes of left-sided lung pain may be mild, others can be cause for concern. Some signs that left lung pain could be a medical emergency include:
- chest pain, particularly chest pain that radiates down the left arm
- coughing up blood
- lips or fingernails that are bluish in tint, which can indicate that a person is not getting enough oxygen
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- temperature higher than 105°F
If a person experiences these or other symptoms, they should call 911 or have someone drive them to the emergency room immediately.
Signs of lung cancer
Lung cancer signs can include:
- long-term changes to the sound and tone of a person’s voice, such as hoarseness
- chronic infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia that will not go away
- a cough that does not get better over time
- coughing up rust-colored or blood-tinged mucus
- unexplained feelings of fatigue and weakness
- wheezing with no known underlying cause
If someone experiences these symptoms, they should see a doctor.
Whether the pain is related to the lung or feels as though it is, a person should see their doctor if their pain is interfering with their everyday life.
This is especially true if the pain is worsening instead of improving.
A doctor will diagnose the cause of left lung pain by taking a medical history and carrying out a physical examination.
The doctor will ask questions about what makes the pain worse, what makes it better, and when the pain began. They will also listen to the lungs with a stethoscope.
A doctor may recommend initial imaging studies, such as a chest X-ray to identify potential abnormalities related to the lungs. If this X-ray does not reveal any problems, but the doctor suspects an underlying problem, they may recommend further testing.
Further tests could include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. These imaging studies can provide different, high-quality pictures of the lungs to aid in a diagnosis.
Other modes of testing may include a complete blood count to identify the number of white blood cells a person has. A high white blood cell count could indicate that an infection is present in the body.
Another test a doctor might use is a cardiac enzyme panel, which is a test to determine whether pain in the left lung is in fact chest pain related to a heart attack or another heart problem.
Doctors may also recommend individual tests based upon a person’s symptoms in addition to left lung pain.
Resting and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help if the cause is related to muscles around the lung. These medications include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Treatments for other possible causes of left lung pain can vary. For example, if a person has a collapsed left lung, a doctor may insert a small tube between the ribs and into the space around the lung to re-inflate it.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat respiratory-related infections caused by bacteria.
The most important thing to do is see a doctor who can begin the diagnostic process so treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Left lung pain is a symptom that has many potential causes. The pain may often be related to nearby organs, such as the heart and stomach.
Anyone experiencing left lung pain should seek prompt medical attention to ensure that the pain is not a symptom of a serious underlying condition.