It is possible to have only one lung and still function relatively normally.
Although the lungs are vital organs in the body, some conditions can cause a person to lose function in their lungs or need to have one removed.
That said, each person will be different, and there are special considerations in each case, depending on the person’s lung function and any other issues they experience.
Keep reading to learn more.
The lungs are key organs in the human body, responsible for bringing oxygen into the body and helping get rid of waste gases with every exhale.
Though having both lungs is ideal, it is possible to live and function without one lung. Having one lung will still allow a person to live a relatively normal life.
Having one lung might limit a person’s physical abilities, however, such as their ability to exercise. That said, many athletes who lose the use of one lung may still train and be able to continue their sport.
The body adapts to this change in several ways. For instance, the remaining lung will expand a bit to occupy the space left by the missing lung. Over time, the body will also learn to make up for the loss of oxygen.
However, a person will not have full lung capacity, as they did with two lungs, and they will likely need to learn to slow down and adapt to this change.
Although most people expect to be continuously winded or have an inability to function without one lung, this is not usually what happens. The person may have to learn to slow their normal functions down to a degree, but they should be able to lead a relatively normal life with one lung.
Although it is possible to live without a lung, there are a few risks involved.
A study in the Journal of Cancer notes that pneumonectomy, or the surgery to remove one of the lungs, is a high risk surgery that can lead to complications and even death.
Possible complications associated with pneumonectomy include:
- respiratory failure
- excessive bleeding and shock
- abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmia
- reduced blood flow
- blood clots in the lung, or pulmonary embolism
The anesthetic from the surgery also carries its own risks.
The actual pneumectomy process involves making an incision in the side of the body to remove the affected lung.
The space left after removing the lung will fill with air. During recovery, a person may feel temporary abdominal pain or pressure as this air shifts and assimilates into the body. Over time, the other lung will expand a bit to take up some of this space. The space left will naturally fill with fluid.
After a successful surgery, a person will still take a while to recover. Full recovery without complications may take weeks or even months.
While recovering and even after, the person will need to be aware of their limitations and may have to reduce their activity levels significantly.
Some things may cause a person to feel more winded and could put them at risk of reduced blood flow or fainting. Even everyday activities — such as getting out of bed in the morning, standing up from a prone position, or walking up stairs — may cause the person to feel very winded.
Additional factors will also play into a person’s risk. For instance, their general health before the surgery, their age, and any other health conditions they have may affect their individual risks.
People with a history of smoking or other lung conditions that limit their lung function will need to be extra careful. They may need additional assistance during recovery and should work closely with a doctor to understand their risks.
A number of issues may lead to needing a pneumectomy, including:
- traumatic injury in the area, such as from a serious vehicle accident
- fungal infections
- congenital lung disease
- complications due to smoking
- bronchiectasis, which also puts a person at risk of frequent infections
Although infections were a major cause of lung removal in the past, this is now much less common. That said, for severe infections that cause widespread damage or are very difficult to treat, lung removal may still be the best course of action.
For an otherwise healthy person, having a lung removed should not cause them to be severely limited. Each person will have to learn their own limitations in each situation, as no two cases will be exactly the same.
A person with other issues that affect the lungs or make it more difficult to breathe may find living with one lung more challenging.
Complications from lung disease or a history of smoking may make it more likely that the person experiences symptoms such as being easily winded or having difficulty catching their breath.
Even still, individual outlook can vary greatly. Although people should not expect to return to their full lung function after a lung removal, in most cases, they may still be able to operate relatively normally.
A lung removal procedure is typically only one part of a person’s treatment. Their adherence to their other treatment regimens will also affect their overall outlook.
Therapies such as pulmonary rehabilitation are important factors in a person’s recovery and overall lung function. A doctor will also give the person breathing exercises to do at home.
Always work with a doctor during the recovery process to discuss possible therapies, as these therapies can be important steps to recovery.
It is possible to live with one lung. However, a person’s ability to exercise will likely decrease.
Lung removal surgery is a serious procedure that involves removing a part of or the entire lung.
People with underlying conditions affecting their lungs may need to pay more attention to their individual risks.
The surgery itself carries some risk, as does the recovery process. A person’s individual outlook will vary greatly based on a number of factors, but having one lung should not decrease a person’s life expectancy.
Anyone who may need to undergo lung removal will talk to a doctor beforehand to discuss all the possibilities of the surgery and life after the procedure.
Recovery procedures and pulmonary rehabilitation may help strengthen the remaining lung and help people gradually improve their lung function.