Symptoms of Lung Injuries

If you have symptoms of a lung injury or illness, you should talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your discomfort. Many symptoms of lung injuries are the same as less-threatening conditions. Therefore, it is important to get a professional medical opinion before assuming that you have cancer.

The symptoms of lung injuries may be similar no matter what type of injury or illness you have. But there are also differences between symptoms that you should be aware of.

symptoms of lung injuries

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Many people with lung cancer do not experience symptoms in the early stages. Most often, as the tumor grows, symptoms become more apparent. The symptoms of small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are the same, and may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Coughing that doesn’t go away or gets progressively worse
  • Chest pain (often worse with deep breathing)
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Edema
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lack of energy

If you have lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, you may have these symptoms alongside others, such as:

  • Bone pain (often in the hips or back)
  • Nervous system changes (may include headache, numbness of an arm or leg, balance issues, dizziness or seizures)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Lymph node swelling (especially in the neck)

Related Syndromes and Symptoms

Some patients who have lung cancer will also develop syndromes that have their own groups of symptoms. If you are at risk for lung cancer, be mindful of the following:

Horner Syndrome

Cancers of the uppermost part of the lungs – called Pancoast tumors – can also affect the nerves of the eyes and face. As a result, some people have symptoms associated with Horner syndrome, such as:

  • Weakness or drooping of the upper eyelid
  • A smaller pupil in the affected eye
  • Little or no sweating on the affected side of the face
  • Shoulder pain

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

The superior vena cava (SVC) is one of the major blood vessels in the body. This large vein carries blood from the heart to the arms and head. It passes next to the lymph nodes inside the chest and the upper portion of the right lung. If there is a tumor in this area, the SVC may be compressed, which can lead to a backup of blood inside the vein. This causes swelling in the arms, upper chest, neck and face.

SVC syndrome can also cause headaches, changes in consciousness and dizziness. Some cases develop over time, while others develop rather quickly and need immediate treatment. Some cases of SVC syndrome are life-threatening.

Paraneoplastic Syndromes

Some types of lung cancer can cause hormone-like substances to enter the bloodstream. This can cause problems with organs and tissue, even if cancer is not present in those locations. Some patients notice symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes before suspecting lung cancer.

Paraneoplastic syndromes are more likely to occur with SCLC, but they can occur with any type of lung cancer. Be mindful of the following paraneoplastic syndromes that can be associated with lung cancer:

Cushing Syndrome

Cancer cells make a hormone called ACTH, which causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. This process can lead to weight gain, weakness, drowsiness, fluid retention, high blood pressure, high blood sugar or diabetes.


Syndrome of inappropriate anti-diuretic hormone, or SIADH, is a condition caused by cancer cells producing ADH. ADH is a hormone that causes the patient’s kidneys to hold water, which lowers blood salt levels. Symptoms of SIADH include fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, restlessness, nausea, vomiting and confusion. Severe cases may cause coma and seizures.

Lambert-Eaton Syndrome

The muscles around the hip area become weak. This causes difficulty when standing or moving from a sitting position. Over time, the shoulder muscles will also experience weakness.

Paraneoplastic Cerebellar Degeneration

Causes problems with balance and leg movement. May also cause difficulty swallowing or speaking. SCLC lung cancers can cause nervous system damage like vision problems, sensation changes and even behavioral changes.


Too much calcium in the blood, which causes thirst, frequent urination, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, constipation, nausea, vomiting and confusion.

Blood Clots

Lung cancer increases the risk of blood clots in the deep veins of the body. People who have lung cancer are 4-7 times more likely to develop a blood clot and people without cancer. These blood clots are called venous thromboembolisms, or VTEs. Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a type of VTE that occurs in the deep veins of the legs. DVTs are incredibly dangerous as they can break free and travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or to the brain (stroke).

Like the symptoms of lung cancer discussed previously, the symptoms associated with these syndromes may be related to something other than lung cancer. It is important to talk to your doctor if you think you have lung cancer or are at risk. Find out the cause of your symptoms and take action.

Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that affects mucus-producing cells in the body. It is one of the most common types of NSCLC, accounting for around 40% of lung cancers. The symptoms are very similar to that of other lung cancers, but some are more specific and severe.

For example, the first symptom that most people with adenocarcinoma of the lung experience is a persistent cough accompanied by blood in the sputum (phlegm). Generally, other symptoms do not develop until the cancer has progressed or spread to other parts of the body. These additional symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

If adenocarcinoma spreads or develops in other parts of the body, you will experience symptoms directly associated with that part of the body.

For example, adenocarcinoma of the breast may cause swelling, nipple discharge and changes in shape or skin texture. On the other hand, adenocarcinoma of the colon may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and bleeding.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

The early symptoms of mesothelioma are very similar to symptoms of many common medical conditions. Unfortunately, that causes many people who do have mesothelioma to mistake their symptoms for something else. In general, most people experience symptoms for a few months before they get an accurate diagnosis.

Pleural mesothelioma is cancer that develops in the lungs. This type of mesothelioma may cause the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Painful cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Unusual lumps under the skin on the chest
  • Unexplained weight loss

Because these symptoms are also symptoms of other medical conditions, it is important to speak with your doctor if you notice these symptoms don’t go away or get worse. You should tell your doctor if you have ever worked around asbestos or have been exposed in any way.

 Symptoms of Silicosis

Silicosis is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. It is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms sometimes don’t appear until months, years or even decades after exposure to silica dust.  The type and severity of symptoms often depends on how long ago you were exposed to silica dust, and how much dust you were exposed to.

  • Acute Silicosis: Symptoms of acute silicosis develop much faster than other types. Generally, symptoms are noticeable within a few weeks of exposure. However, it can take up to five years after exposure for symptoms to become apparent. Acute silicosis develops when the patient was exposed to a high concentration of silica dust over a short amount of time.
  • Accelerated Silicosis: Symptoms of accelerated silicosis generally do not appear until five to 10 years after exposure. This type of silicosis occurs when the patient is exposed to high concentrations of silica dust.
  • Chronic Silicosis: Symptoms of chronic silicosis may not appear until 10 years or more after exposure to silica dust. Some people with chronic silicosis go many decades without a proper diagnosis.

Generally, the symptoms of silicosis are broken into two categories – early-onset and later-stage:

Early-Onset symptoms may include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Cough with a lot of phlegm
  • Difficulty breathing

Later-stage symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Edema (swelling, generally in the legs)
  • Blue lips

If you have a history of working around silica dust and develop these symptoms, talk to your doctor about the possibility of silicosis.

Get Help with Lung Injuries

If you have questions about a lung injury caused by a dangerous work environment, product or substance, is here to help. Learn more about lung injuries, symptoms of lung injuries, the causes of lung injuries and treatment options here on our website. You can also get answers to your questions by reviewing our lung injury FAQ page, or by filling out our contact form.

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