There is a good chance that you are wondering what lung washing is right about now. Is it actually getting your lungs washed or something else altogether? This is one of the few circumstance where the word sounds exactly how it means. According to the Cleveland Clinic, lung lavage, also known as lung washing, is a special procedure that is used to treat a rare form lung disease called pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP). So why call a procedure lung washing and can it help with other lung diseases?
Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis
PAP is a rare lung disease that is characterized by the accumulation of protein and lipid material, called surfactant, within the lung air sacs or alveoli. The alveoli absorbs oxygen from the air into the blood. To do this, the alveoli are lined with surfactant. Surfactant serves to keep air sacs open to capture oxygen so that the blood can transport it from the lungs to the rest of the body. The exact reason why there is excess accumulation of surfactant is still unknown to researchers.
This disease generally occurs in a younger population, mainly in the 20 to 40 age group. The disease is frustrating to those it impairs since they are usually otherwise healthy individuals. PAP likely afflicts less than 10,000 people in the United States. Because of the rarity of this lung disease, it is difficult to obtain reliable information for patients and it also poses challenges for medical advances. Patients with PAP may complain of shortness of breath, coughing or chest discomfort. This condition is diagnosed by doctors based on a variety of tests including chest x-rays, breathing tests and lung biopsy. PAP sometimes displays little to no symptoms or can be very active and even life threatening.
What Is Lung Washing?
Lung washing has been around for a number of decades, but the latest advancement is helping to treat both lungs at once to save patients time and stress. This is a step-by-step process that is used to wash away the PAP from a patient’s lung. Here is the normal process for lung washing according to the Cleveland Clinic:
- The most diseased lung is the starting point. The anesthesia team separates the lungs using a device called a double lumen breathing tube. Basically, the healthier lung is used to breathe for the whole body while the sicker lung is cleaned.
- Force of gravity. Using special tubing, doctors will flush saline solution through the lung with the help of gravity. The liquid starts out very dark but becomes clearer as the process continues.
- Add shaking and suction. Doctors wrap a vest around the patient’s chest. This vest shakes the body to help agitate the abnormal protein, mix it up with the washing liquid and help remove it. Afterward, the team uses suction devices to remove liquid that gravity and shaking left behind.
- Test and repeat. A test is then done to make sure that the cleaned lung is functioning well enough to breathe for the body. From there, the process is repeated.
*To watch a lung washing procedure, click here for the video.
After the procedure, patients may require oxygen for a few days as the lungs finish the cleaning process on their own. But most patients start to feel the benefit within a few days. Due to the nature of the treatment, lung washing cannot be treated for other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD and other lung diseases can be treated by stem cell treatments though. If you or a loved one is interested in stem cell therapy for lung disease, then contact us at the Lung Institute to learn more or call (800) 729-3065 today.