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Fluid in Lungs: Elderly Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis

Having fluid in the lungs can be scary, dangerous, and deeply uncomfortable. As each breath draws fluid into the lungs instead of air, the resulting shortness of breath may feel like drowning. Fluid in lungs of the elderly is quite common, and it’s often difficult to treat. But what causes fluid in the lungs in the elderly?

Common Causes of Fluid in the Lungs

Having excess fluid in the lungs is a condition called pulmonary edema, which basically means swelling of the lungs. And it can be caused by more than a dozen different conditions. For instance, fluid buildup is a key symptom of coronary heart disease as well as many different respiratory disorders. Another common cause of fluid in the lungs of older adults is kidney disease. Somewhat less common causes include side effects from medications, exposure to toxins, respiratory distress syndrome, brain trauma, sepsis, and pneumonia.

Surprisingly, even traveling to a high altitude may lead to what’s called an altitude pulmonary edema. This typically occurs between 2,500 and 8,000 feet above sea level. Even though its underlying cause isn’t as severe as brain trauma or toxic exposure, this form shares the same potentially dangerous underlying symptoms you find with other types of pulmonary edema, and can affect anyone.

Symptoms of Fluid in Lungs in Elderly Adults

The symptoms experienced vary slightly depending on the cause of the fluid that’s built-up in the lungs. With acute pulmonary edema, the most common symptom is shortness of breath, which may worsen while you’re laying down. A feeling of suffocating is another acute symptom often joined with confusion, anxiety, restlessness, irregular heartbeat, blue-gray skin, cold or clammy skin, or blue-tinged lips.

For chronic pulmonary edema, the same difficulty breathing may be joined by wheezing, weight gain, swelling in the lower extremities, and fatigue. It’s often possible to manage these types of chronic symptoms. For people who suffer a sudden attack, having fluid in the lungs can be a life-threatening event that requires the immediate attention of a doctor.

Fluid in Lungs: Elderly Prognosis

It’s fairly common for seniors to suffer from fluid in the lungs, but getting a good prognosis depends on understanding the underlying cause. Most cases are the result of heart problems, which is why acute pulmonary edema has a one-year mortality rate of about 40% for elderly patients. Some cases have a more positive prognosis than others, especially where patients have promising options to intervene and improve their health.

Fluid in Lungs: Elderly Treatment

If your loved one is among the majority of people who suffer from fluid in their lungs because of a heart problem, then there are a number of ways to be proactive. Bodies retain more water with a high sodium diet, which requires the heart to work harder. High cholesterol or an unhealthy body weight does the same. Worse still, smoking promotes both lung disease and heart disease simultaneously. By quitting smoking, cutting back on the salt, and living a more active lifestyle, it’s often possible to reduce the frequency and severity of these problems.

As mentioned above, treatment will depend on the underlying cause. But by understanding more about these types of problems, you’re already in a much better position to ensure your loved ones can get the care they need. If you believe that your loved one may be experiencing a new issue with fluid in the lungs, it’s a good idea to visit the doctor.