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What is Lung Lavage?

Lung lavage is a procedure usually performed to diagnose certain lung conditions. It involves instilling the lungs with a salt solution which is then drained out and evaluated. Lung lavage may also be performed to treat a condition called pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP) characterized by deposition of a proteinaceous material in the alveolar spaces of the lungs which can make breathing difficult. In this procedure, a salt solution is instilled into the lungs to wash out of the material from the alveolar spaces.

What are the Indications for Lung Lavage?

Your doctor may recommend a lung lavage to diagnose:

  • Pneumonia
  • Alveolar hemorrhage
  • Lung cancer

It may be used to treat:

  • PAP causing shortness of breath with regular activities
  • Lung infiltrates
  • Inhalation of radioactive substances

Procedure for Lung Lavage

  • Lung lavage is performed under local or general anesthesia.
  • A tube is inserted into one lung with the help of a bronchoscope.
  • Sterile salt solution is instilled into the lung or a segment of the lung through the tube and is then suctioned out. This procedure may be repeated. The fluid obtained is then sent for analysis.
  • For a whole lung lavage, a larger quantity of salt solution is instilled so that the entire lung volume is filled. You will continue to breathe using the other lung which is ventilated and isolated from the other. The fluid is then removed and the procedure is repeated until the proteinaceous material is effectively washed out.
  • The procedure is performed on the other lung usually in a separate session 3 weeks later. 

Postoperative Care for Lung Lavage

Following lung lavage, any remaining fluid in the lungs is carefully aspirated and you will be placed on oxygen and mechanical ventilation while in recovery. You may experience some coughing which should clear on its own. Your doctor may prescribe diuretics to help clear the fluid.  

Risks and Complications of Lung Lavage

A lung lavage procedure may be associated with the following risks and complications:

  • Fever
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Wheezing
  • Bleeding
  • Infection (pneumonia)
  • Leakage of fluid into the ventilated lung