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Lung Abscess

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is a lung abscess?

A lung abscess is a pus-filled area in your lung tissue that is caused by a bacterial infection. A lung abscess can form after you accidentally inhale food or liquid into your lungs. A mouth infection, a weak immune system, or heart problems may increase your risk for a lung abscess. A severe lung abscess may spread and become life-threatening.

What are the signs and symptoms of a lung abscess?

  • Productive cough
  • Fever, chills, or night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood

How is a lung abscess diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may show which type of bacteria is in your lung. This will help your healthcare provider know which type of medicine to use to treat your lung abscess.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan may be used to show the location of your lung abscess. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these or other tests you may need.

How is a lung abscess treated?

  • Medicines will be used to treat a bacterial infection.
  • Chest physiotherapy is treatment to clear fluid from your lung and increase blood flow. A healthcare provider will tap on your chest and back to help loosen fluid in your lungs. He will place you in different positions to exercise your lung and drain the fluid. This will help you cough out excess fluid from your lung so it can heal.
  • Percutaneous drainage is a procedure to remove excess fluid from your lung through a catheter. Your healthcare provider will use an ultrasound to insert the catheter through your skin and into your lung.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Limit activity as directed. Ask your healthcare provider when it is okay to return to your normal activities.

What can I do to prevent the spread of germs?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Cover a sneeze or cough. Use a tissue that covers your mouth and nose. Throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Stay away from others while you are sick. Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. Talk to your healthcare provider about your vaccine history. He or she will tell you which vaccines you need, and when to get them.
    • Get the influenza (flu) vaccine as soon as recommended each year. The flu vaccine is available starting in September or October. Flu viruses change, so it is important to get a flu vaccine every year.
    • Get the pneumonia vaccine if recommended. This vaccine is usually recommended every 5 years. Your provider will tell you when to get this vaccine, if needed.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have sudden shortness of breath.
  • You have sudden sharp chest pain, especially when you breathe or cough.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever or night sweats.
  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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