Chest pain is not an uncommon symptom and depending on other symptoms as well as risk factors, it can be a very serious of a potentially life threatening condition. From heartburn to heart attacks and respiratory infections, chest pain on its own can be difficult to diagnose.
The nature of the pain may sometimes help. For example, heartburn typically presents as a burning chest pain whereas a heart attack usually causes a crushing chest pain. However, these characteristics are not exclusive to one condition or one organ. Sometimes lung conditions may present with a burning sensation.
Why do the lungs burn?
A burning chest pain or sensation on its own is not necessarily due to the lungs. There are several organs in the chest cavity although it is not as many or as tightly packed as the abdominal cavity. The esophagus, heart and lungs are some of the major organs in the chest. If the buring chest pain is worse with breathing and accompanied by symptoms like coughing, abnormal breathing sounds like wheezing or shortness of breath then it is more likely to be due to lung problems.
Most of the time burning chest pain is attributed to acid reflux. The acidic stomach contents irritates the esophagus and causes a burning sensation. However, even a heart attack may sometimes present with a burning chest pain rather than the typical crushing or suffocating pain. In terms of a heart attack, chest pain accompanied by arm, neck or jaw pain with excessive sweating, shortness of breath and/or dizziness required immediate medical attention. A burning lung pain may not always be as much of a medical emergency but also requires attention.
Breathing usually does not cause any specific sensation. Normally both the inhalation and exhalation processes are painless. However, there are cases where breathing is painful. Since the lungs are responsible for gas exchange which is facilitated by inhalation and exhalation, it is the likely source of pain when breathing. This pain may not always arise from the lungs itself. The neigbouring organs and surrounding structures may be the source of the pain but it is incorrectly ascribed to the lungs since the pain arises or worsens with breathing.
Read more on painful breathing.
Burning chest pain with running can occur in any person, especially when a person is not conditioned to that level of physical activity. This includes children and adults. While the pain does very often arise from the lungs, there are also other concerns. The heart may be the source of the pain as the heart has to work harder during these periods of physical attention. People with coronary artery disease in particular may experience angina pectoris or even a heart attack as result of the physical exertion due to running.
Coughing is not a process that is limited to the lungs. It can be triggered anywhere along the respiratory tract, including the upper and lower airways. Chest pain with coughing can arise from the lower airways (trachea and bronchi) as well as the lungs. However, the coughing process irrespective of the site where it was triggered can lead to chest pain even if the lungs are not diseases. The chest wall may be strained during persistent coughing. The increased pressure within the chest during coughing may also trigger pain from diseased organs like the heart.
Causes of Burning Lung Pain
Some of the more likely lung causes of burning chest pain have been discussed below. However, other causes of burning chest pain also need to be considered. Even when symptoms appear to indicate a cause arising from the lung, it is important to remember that the organs in the chest cavity lie closely together. Therefore these symptoms may sometimes be misleading.
Read more on burning chest pain.
Injury to the lungs may occur through various insults. Smoke, toxic gas and dust inhalation, vomitus, foods or fluids and even saliva that enter the airways can reach the lungs and cause injury. This may cause conditions like aspiration pneumonia or pneumoconiosis. It may be further aggravated by an allergic reaction to these substances leading to conditions like hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
Asthma is primarily a condition of the lower airways and specifically the bronchi. However, the effects ultimately affect the lungs as well. In asthma, the bronchi become narrowed. This is due to a combination of bronchospasm (tightening of the tiny muscles in the bronchial wall) as well as mucus accumulation in the bronchi. As a result the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Chest pain when it does occur is more likely to arise during asthmatic attacks.
The lungs are surrounded by membranes known as pleura. When the pleura becomes inflamed, it is referred to as pleuritis or pleurisy. It tends to cause sharp chest pains when breathing or coughing. Most of the time pleurisy is due to an infection. The lining around the heart (pericadium) can cause a similar pain during deep breathing and coughing when it is inflamed (pericarditis).
Pneumonia, Pneumonitis and Pneumoconiosis
Pneumonia is a broad term for inflammation of the lungs due to any cause. Most of the time pneumonia refers to a lung infection, either viral, bacterial or in rare cases it may be fungal. However, pneumonia can also occur due to trauma as is seen with aspiration pneumonia.
Pneumonitis usually refers to the non-infectious causes of lung inflammation like with drugs, mold inhalation or radiation exposure. When mineral dust causes damage to the lungs then this is known as pneumoconiosis. It is also known according to the causative dust, as is the case with asbestosis, silicosis and coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.
Pulmonary embolism is where a blood clot causes a blockage of the pulmonary arteries which carries blood from the heart to the lungs. This clot usually arises from the deep veins of the leg where it dislodges and travels through the heart to the lungs. The disruption of the blood supply to the lungs can cause a pulmonary infarction (death of affected lung tissue).
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. There are different types of lung cancer but most are attributed to tobacco smoking. Cancer can also arise from the lining around the lungs (pleura). This may also be associated with a host of risk factor but pleural mesothelioma is most often associated with asbestos exposure. Sometimes cancer from other organs, like the kidney, can spread to the lungs (metastasis).
Read more on signs of lung cancer.
Pneumothorax and Hemothorax
A pneumothorax is also known as a collapsed lung and occurs when the lung cannot properly expand. This is often due to the accumulation of air in the pleural space around the lung. Most of the time this is caused by a penetrating chest injury. If blood accumulates in the pleural space then this is known as a hemothorax. The blood may hamper lung expansion and can further increase fluid accumulation around the lung.