15 Signs That Your Lungs Are Not Functioning Correctly

I breathe therefore I am. These are not the exact words of the great philosopher and mathematician, Descartes, but they still ring true. We literally cannot… Simi - February 4, 2018

I breathe therefore I am. These are not the exact words of the great philosopher and mathematician, Descartes, but they still ring true. We literally cannot live without breathing. It is the very essence of life. It is also completely instinctual. We do not think about taking a breath, we simply do it. This is something called autonomic control. It is not a conscious or voluntary movement. It is like your heartbeat. Mostly, you are unaware of it but there it is. Every second of every day.

As a person inhales, air rushes into the lungs, inflating them fully. Pressure forces oxygen through the alveolar membranes and into the bloodstream. Once oxygen has made it to the blood, it is carried to every cell in the body. This process is relentless. It will continue, without any major interruptions, for the rest of a person’s life.

Unless said person’s lungs are not in working condition. There are countless diseases and ailments which could damage the lungs. Obviously, everyone is aware of the detrimental effects of smoking. But this is not the only plague upon lungs. Inhalants, pollution, fumes, and dust could all wreak havoc on the lungs.

It is thus very important for people to listen to their bodies and pay careful attention to the signs that it is throwing out. Early detection of certain lung disorders could just save your life. These are 15 physical symptoms which may indicate an underlying condition.

1. Difficulty sleeping

Waking up unrested can ruin a person’s entire day. One is left feeling unfocused, drowsy and cranky. Sleep allows us to recharge our batteries. It is the time of the day when the body heals, rests and replenishes its stores to keep us up and about. A restless night can be attributed to a variety of factors. Some of these may be completely benign, but it is possible that this difficulty sleeping could be attributed to a lung disorder or condition.

A person can only go 11 days without sleep. The consequences of prolonged sleep deprivation are widespread and severe. There are apparently over 90 different types of sleeping disorders which affect between 50 and 70 million Americans each year. Chronic sleep disruption can increase one’s risk of numerous other health conditions. Some of these include diabetes, hypertension, obesity and even depression. Obviously, getting the correct amount of sleep is vital to one’s health and longevity.

If you are having difficulty either with sleeping for an extended amount of time or with initiating sleep, and have not been diagnosed with a pre-existing sleep disorder, then there may actually be a problem with your lungs.

When the body is lying down, there is a greater amount of pressure put on the lungs. A healthy person can physiologically adjust to and manage this pressure. A person whose lungs are compromised does not. This means that a person with unhealthy lungs will have trouble breathing when they are lying down. They may even cough in the middle of the night, which can wake anyone from a deep sleep. If this persists for a few days, then it is advised to consult a healthcare practitioner.

2. Swelling of the lower limbs

The heart pumps blood throughout the veins and arteries of the body. This is known as the circulatory system. The lungs form part of this system. The lungs’ job is to add oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide from it. If this job is not done correctly, the consequences for the body could be severe. Cells need oxygen to survive and they cannot be left to soak in their own waste, which is carbon dioxide in this case.

Malfunctioning lungs do not adequately perform their bodily duties. This means that cells are oxygen deprived and waste is accumulated. An oxygen-deprived heart cannot pump properly. This means that fluid will accumulate in the tissues and extremities. Gravity will further compound this problem by pulling fluid down to a person’s feet.

Once the heart is affected and diminishes its output, other organs follow suit. The kidneys and liver are responsible for fluid regulation and waste removal. The liver detoxifies the blood, while the kidneys balance the fluids in one’s body by producing varying amounts of urine. A diminished blood supply, and therefore oxygen supply, to these organs, will result in fluid and waste retention.

If a person is experiencing swelling in their legs, and possibly even their arms, it could indicate an issue in the lungs. Elevating the legs to a level which is above the heart should lessen the swelling. If it does not go down over the next few days or is showing signs of worsening, a doctor should be consulted. Fluid retention alone should never be left untreated. Even more so, if it is indicative of an underlying condition of the lungs.

3. Unexplained fatigue

If a person is getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night but is still suffering from fatigue during the day. Then there is almost definitely some medical condition at play. A sleeping disorder is a case where a person is suffering from sleep deprivation and the various signs and symptoms which come with it. Unexplained fatigue actually has nothing to do with sleep, and the related chemical processes that are involved, but rather it is indicative of some other physiological malfunction.

Lungs that are not functioning correctly could cause chronic fatigue. This condition is not characterized by sporadic bouts of tiredness. This kind of fatigue is measured relatively and over a certain span of time. If a person finds that they get tired quicker than they used to, especially if it is during a frequently performed exercise, or if they find that it takes them longer to recover and regain their strength. Then it could be a sign of a lung disorder.

It has been established that the lungs provide the body with oxygen. Nothing and no one can survive without oxygen. Tissues, organs, and cells which are not receiving adequate amounts of oxygen will not function effectively or efficiently.

There are numerous symptoms which would indicate multisystem or multi-organ dysfunction. Chronic fatigue is one of them. A person’s energy levels are a direct indication of how well their body is functioning. Obviously, this is said under the presumption that the person in question is living a healthy lifestyle. If you are experiencing unexplained, prolonged fatigue it might be a sign that there is a problem with your lungs. The wise choice would be to have it checked out, promptly.

4. Headaches or dizziness is the morning

A headache can be blinding. A headache can almost push one to the brink of murder. Starting the day with a throbbing headache is pure, unadulterated torture. There are literally hundreds of causes of a headache. These range from simple things like dehydration to horrifying possibilities like brain tumors. A throbbing headache first thing in the morning could be due to either of these two, or it could be due to something else entirely. It could be due to a problem in a person’s lungs.

Carbon dioxide is waste produced by cells. It is by no means toxic waste. It is simply created when cells utilize oxygen and glucose to perform their various functions. Carbon dioxide is not all that dangerous per se, but it does need to be removed from the body. This is wearing the lungs come in, again.

Carbon dioxide builds up in the body when the lungs are not sufficiently evacuating it. This may be experienced as a throbbing headache upon waking. A person with a lung disorder, such as COPD, will not be breathing deeply enough when they sleep. With each shallow breath taken, carbon dioxide will build up in the blood.

In the brain, this results in the dilation of blood vessels. Dilated blood vessels allow blood to flow in a relatively reckless and uninhibited way. The result of this unchecked blood flow is none other than a throbbing headache or dizziness when the poor soul awakes in the morning. This symptom should not be walked off and it should not be ignored. If you, or someone you know, is plagued by these headaches then you should head to the doctor, the sooner the better.

5. Sudden onset and persistence of wheezing

Wheezing is one of the worst parts of having the flu. Granted there is a runny nose, delirium, coughing, lethargy and even sweats. But, wheezing is downright horrible. It makes every breath feel like an unnecessarily huge amount of work. Breathing should be easy, it should be effortless, not a conscious act that (at the high of the infection) doesn’t even seem worth it.

Wheezing is a sign that one has narrowed airways. During the flu, this is simply because of mucous. And while mucous is the absolute worst, at least the wheezer knows why they are wheezing. Wheezing without rhyme or reason is a problem, a rather large one which should not be easily dismissed.

There are many different things which could narrow a person’s airways, outside of flu season. Some of these conditions are manageable, some can prove fatal. All should be addressed by a qualified doctor. The actual wheezing sound is because air cannot be exhaled effortlessly, this struggle is what produces the sound.

Sufferers of asthma and emphysema are all too familiar with the sound and the effort. If you are wheezing persistently and have not been diagnosed with either of these two conditions, then the next step to take is to see a doctor. The wheezing may be due to some benign cause, but it could potentially be lung cancer. This is not a surefire test for cancer, there are dozens of other tests and symptoms which would need to be considered to make such a diagnosis. But, the fact remains that wheezing is not a natural phenomenon and should be dealt with appropriately.

6. Persistent coughing

Coughing can, at times, be considered a reflex. This is to say that it can be involuntary. Generally, people do not mean to cough. It is not exactly pleasant for anyone involved so why would a person cough deliberately. Unless however, they are trying to catch someone’s attention, in which case it is forced but never prolonged.

Physiologically speaking, coughing removes unwanted or foreign substances from the airways. This could be mucous or other inhalants. The fact remains that if it does not belong in the lungs then coughing will valiantly attempt to remove the offending substances.

Coughing is useful and necessary, but persistent coughing can be a sign of some underlying problem. A chronic cough is one that has continued, without respite, over a long enough period of time. This is one of the first signs of a lung condition. If a person has been coughing for a few weeks, it is cause for concern. If they cannot decipher a reason for the cough and find that medicine does absolutely nothing to relieve them, then they really should be on their way to the doctor.

Coughing excessively can put a strain on the airways, vessels, and muscles in the lungs and should not be allowed to continue unchecked. If an excessive amount of mucus seems to be causing the cough, then one should stay hydrated. Copious amounts of mucus is a symptom in itself, but it can be marginally treated with fluids. These will water down the substance and thus make it easier to expel. Lastly, coughing which is coupled with chest pains or pains down the arms should be reported to a doctor with the utmost haste.

7. Difficulty Breathing

It is very simple. If it’s hard to breathe, then there is something wrong. This is not to say that you are suffering from a fatal condition, but labored breathing should not be ignored. There are certain exceptions to this rule. If you are ailed by the flu or some other sickness, then breathing can be difficult. This is normal. This is simply a sign of a diagnosed condition. If you are out of breath while in the middle of a strenuous activity such as exercising, then there is nothing to be worried about.

If you find it difficult to breathe whilst performing a simple task such as walking to the bathroom, then there may be a problem. When a person ages, their body does not work like it used to. Maybe joints ache, muscles are weaker, or lung capacity is diminished. These are natural occurrences which accompany aging. This being said, lung health should not be taken lightly.

If a person finds breathing difficult, it means that their lungs could be working harder than normal to maintain blood oxygenation. This could be due to a blockage or a disease which has adversely affected the pulmonary system. With the advances in modern medicine, there is a whole host of lung diseases which are either completely curable or potentially manageable. But, by leaving a lung condition untreated, one could land up worsening their condition and thus reducing the number of treatment options available.

If this case of labored breathing is not pathological in nature, then regular cardiovascular exercise would be advised. This kind of exercise maintains and strengthens both the lungs and the muscles which support them. Overall making the process of breathing as natural and effortless as it is supposed to be.

8. Increased mucous secretion

Mucous has wonderful biological uses. It acts as a lubricant and is a veritable foreign substance trap. Dust, bugs, germs, and bacteria have no hope of reaching the lungs when there is mucus present. It is the lungs’ first line of defense and one shudders to think of the possibilities were these harmful substances to reach the very organs which we could not survive without. But, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Mucous is not excluded from this.

The common cold and other conditions result in the over-secretion of mucus. During the course of the illness, this mucus is expelled via coughing. By the time the patient is recovered, the lungs dry up and phlegm ceases to be a problem. If this is not the case, and mucous is present without the accompanying illness, there may be something wrong in the lungs.

The presence of unexplained mucous is reason enough to consult a doctor. Furthermore, you should take note of the color and consistency of the mucus. Clear mucous, while not without problems, does not necessarily herald a worrying ailment. Green, yellow, or even red mucous on the other hand, can be very concerning.

Blood coming out of any orifice should be reported to a doctor, this includes the lungs. Conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis or even cancer result in bloody sputum. Before self-diagnosing and jumping to any conclusions, first one should consult a doctor. Through a series of questions and tests, they should be able to identify and hopefully treat the underlying disease or condition. Mucous does not signify doom and gloom, but it should not be persistently ignored. Especially if it is compromising ones breathing.

9. A hoarse voice

Apparently, none of us know the real sound of our own voices. This is because when we speak, the sound echoes through our sinuses and then reaches our ears. This dissipation and reverberation results in us hearing our own voices at a pitch that is slighter lower than its natural one. While we may not know the true sound of our voices, we will definitely notice if it sounds different all of a sudden. Better yet, other people will notice if your voice has changed. If this is the case and you or those around you have detected a change in your voice, then it is a good idea to take note of it. This could be a sign of lung cancer.

The recurrent laryngeal nerve controls the voice box and is split into two parts. One part of the nerve passes through the chest by the left lung. If a tumor is present in the left lung, it could be applying pressure to this nerve which would cause hoarseness in one’s voice.

While this can be a sign of lung cancer, environmental factors first need to be ruled out. This could be illness, smoking, gastrointestinal reflux disease and even a person’s profession (teachers tend to use their voices a lot).

If a person’s voice has become hoarse, and none of these factors are present, then a physician should be consulted. Further testing would need to be done before cancer is diagnosed, but a change in voice should definitely not be completely ignored. When visiting a doctor, don’t forget to take all medical records and do not fail to mention any family history of cancer.

10. Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

The beauty standard set out by society, is that you are only attractive if you are thin. This is an absolutely warped view of beauty and has led people into doing questionable things to lose weight. Unintentional weight loss is not healthy. It signifies that something has changed in a person’s body and more often than not, this change is not for the better. Regardless of what we know about health and medicine, most people would take unexpected weight loss as a blessing and carry on with their day. This is a mistake.

A person can shed pounds quickly and wholly unexpectedly for a multitude of reasons. These could be psychological, physiological or even environmental reasons. It does not necessarily signify cancer, but it is a possibility.

By the time lung cancer is diagnosed, a sixth of the patients reported sudden and inexplicable weight loss. This is the nature of most cancers and is generally due to a loss of appetite or a change in the way the body is utilizing energy (tumors leach unnatural amounts of energy and nutrients from the body).

If a person has noticed that they have lost an unnatural amount of weight lately, the first conclusion should not necessarily be lung cancer. Other conditions, diseases or factors first need to be ruled out. Once this is done and if this weight loss is coupled with other signs and symptoms of lung disease, only then can one start considering the possibility of lung cancer. If this is the case, this information should be delivered directly to a doctor. This is the only route available for an accurate and reliable diagnosis.

11. Chest pain

The thoracic cavity is home to two major organs. They are the heart and the lungs. When a person experiences pain in their chest, their first thought is generally that it must be their heart. This could be a life-threatening mistake. One must never forget that lungs can hurt too and that pain in the chest may not simply be a case of heartburn or muscle soreness. It could actually be an early warning sign of lung disease.

Pain is relative and at times can be hard to locate. Lung disease can cause pressure or tightness in the chest which may at times be misinterpreted as pain. This pain, which is brought about by damaged or diseased lungs, is also not necessarily constant or sharp. Chest pain, which is indicative of lung disease, could be transient and even generalized as opposed to specific to one spot. The key here when it comes to diagnosis is the prevalence and presence of other signs and symptoms.

Blood in the sputum and bluish lips and skin are both signs of lung disease. These coupled with chest pain are quite clear identifiers of a lung problem. As with all other listed signs, further testing would be required for diagnosis.

Some of the lung diseases which would cause chest pain include pneumonia, pneumothorax, lung cancer and chronic cough. Obviously, this pain may be benign, or heart-related but regardless, it should not be ignored. Whether you are heading to the doctor specifically for this problem or it is just time for your monthly checkup, do not forget to mention it to your doctor and let them judge the severity of the case.

12. Persistent or recurring pneumonia

This may seem counterintuitive. Isn’t a chest infection itself a problem with the lungs and not also a symptom of a different lung disease? While a recurring chest infection, such as pneumonia, is incredibly bothersome in itself, it could also signify a very worrying underlying condition. This condition is lung cancer.

A person who has cancer has a weakened immune system. This means that they are more prone to infections. This is where pneumonia comes in. Pneumonia is an infection and can be caused by fungal, viral, bacterial or chemical sources. The infection can take hold either if one of these sources has made their way past the nose and throat into the lungs or if they have spread to the lungs from another part of the body.

Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing, chest pain, wheezing, lethargy, appetite loss, excessive mucous production, and many others. Differentiating between pneumonia and lung cancer can be quite troublesome as there are many symptoms which are common to both. To aid in diagnosis, doctors generally evaluate risk factors. Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer while a weakened immune system leaves one at risk for pneumonia. Children, the elderly and cancer patients have weakened immune systems.

It has been made clear that pneumonia and lung cancer can almost be indistinguishable from one another. The point here is then, that if a person is suffering from recurring bouts of pneumonia it might be time to test for an underlying condition. There may be a biological or environmental reason for their weakened immune system which has made them increasingly more susceptible to the infection, but it could also be lung cancer.

13. Swelling of the face, neck or arms

Lung cancer in its early stages can be quite difficult to diagnose. This is because patients tend to only show symptoms once cancer has progressed and spread to other organs or body parts. There are some people who do display symptoms early on. These include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and hoarseness. To name but a few.

While these symptoms do not generally appear early in the disease, they are common to most cancer patients. There are, however, some lung cancers which cause syndromes. A syndrome which is caused by lung cancer is one in which there are a group of specific symptoms. One of these is superior vena cava syndrome.

The superior vena cava is a vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the head and arms to the heart. It passes by the upper right lung. If there is a tumor in this part of the lung, it could apply pressure to this vein. This pressure could result in a pooling of blood in the vein which would cause swelling in the face, arms, and neck. The skin in these parts may even appear to be a blue or red color.

Some patients may even display neurological symptoms if this pooling is severe enough to affect the brain. These could be dizziness, headaches and a loss of consciousness. Clearly, this syndrome is specific to lung cancer patients who have a tumor in a specific region. It is, however, a set of symptoms which should not be ignored. The progression of this condition is generally gradual, but there are cases where it can progress rapidly, thus requiring immediate medical attention.

14. Jaundice

There are no nerve endings in the lungs. This means that a person can have a large tumor in their lungs without even noticing it. This, combined with the fact that lung cancer patients rarely display early-stage symptoms, makes early diagnosis almost unheard of. This alone can be life-threatening, as growing tumors intrude on blood vessels and thus shunt blood away from healthy tissue. The other problem associated with lung cancer is, given enough time, cancer can metastasize.

Metastatic cancer is one which has spread to another part of the body. It is named according to where cancer first formed. This is because when a tumor is examined, it has cells which are specific to the original growth site. A tumor spreads when its size has increased substantially enough to require further space for growth. Cancer can metastasize by either intruding on the tissue which is nearby or by breaking off and traveling via the bloodstream or lymphatic system to a completely different part of the body.

Lung cancer can metastasize to the liver. This would then result in a completely different set of symptoms, which are totally apart from lung disease symptoms. These could include nausea following eating, pain under the right ribs and lastly, jaundice.

Jaundice is caused by unnatural amounts of bilirubin in the blood, this is what results in the yellow appearance of the eyes and skin. This condition clearly signifies a problem with one’s liver as it is liver cells which process and aid in the excretion of bilirubin. Jaundice does not always signify lung cancer. But, the liver is a common sight for lung cancer metastasis and it could very well be because of lung cancer.

15. Upper back pain

The lungs are situated in the back. With this placement in mind, it is odd to note that when a person experiences back pain they do not consider it to be an implication of lung disease. Granted, this pain in the back can be simply that, back pain. It could also point to an underlying pulmonary issue.

If a person is battling a chest infection, it is very common for them to experience pain or discomfort in their upper back. This could be when lying down when breathing deeply or coughing. While this is inconvenient and adds to the discomfort of the illness, it is at least known and diagnosed.

This kind of is also generally mechanical in nature and is simply due to the strain put on the muscles when one has a chest infection. There is, however, another kind of back pain which originates in the lungs. This is categorized as referred back pain and it could indicate an underlying or emergent lung condition. The distinction lies in when the pain in the back is predominantly felt.

If a person is able to twist and move their spine without worsening the pain, then it is most likely a pain which is originating in the lungs. This is obviously not true all the time. It is possible for a person to be able to move their spine, while still having pain which has its source in the back and its muscles as opposed to the lungs. A correct diagnosis can only be made by a doctor, after a full physical examination. Non-mechanical back pain still ought to be treated as a sign or symptom of lung disease.