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Lung Washing

2 Oct 2014
| Under Lung Disease, Related Conditions, Treatments | Posted by | 9 Comments
lung washing Lung Institute

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


  1. PB

    5 days ago

    Dear Cheryl,

    First and foremost, we’re sorry to hear about the challenges your husband has been facing with hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Typically, lung lavage or lung washing is used for people with PAP or pulmonary alveolar proteinosis and not for other pulmonary conditions. If you’re concerned that your husband’s condition could be something else or if you have questions about lung lavage as a possible treatment option for your husband, it’s best to discuss it with your husband’s doctor. Because your husband’s doctor knows him and his health situation well, your husband’s doctor will be able to answer your questions and best guide you. We hope this information is helpful, and we wish you both the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  2. Cheryl Perry

    5 days ago

    My husband was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis which has not really improved even with years of immunosuppressant therapy (mycophenolate) and steroid medications (prednisone). He has always had problems with excessive mucous and coughing even when he was a child. His father had similar respiratory problems and was diagnosed as chronic bronchitis. My husband has always done landscaping and, since his father was also a landscaper, he learned from him and has continued this profession throughout his lifetime. He has what have been described as “ground glass opacities” in his lungs on CT, has shortness of breath especially with activity, daily cough (with thick “cotton ball” sputum, copious at times; shortness of breath is improved after coughing up mucous), no clubbing of fingers, abnormal pulmonary function tests, and uses supplemental oxygen at 2 L/min as needed. I have been reading about interstitial lung diseases and found information about lung lavage. Would this possibly be helpful for someone with HP? Could my husband’s HP possibly be something else, such as PAP? His doctors have always just treated his condition as HP. Any information is most appreciated.

  3. PB

    4 weeks ago

    Dear Paula,

    Thanks for your question. Lung washing is a procedure used to treat people with a rare form of lung disease called PAP or pulmonary alveolar proteinosis. PAP causes a build-up of surfactant in their lungs over time. The more surfactant, the harder it becomes to breathe. Typically, lung washing is not used for people with COPD, lung fibrosis, other lung conditions or for smokers. It’s always best to discuss your questions with your doctor, so he or she can best guide you.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  4. Paula

    4 weeks ago

    Would this be helpful for smokers?

  5. PB

    4 weeks ago

    Dear Jeannine,

    Lung washing is not typically used for people with certain chronic lung diseases, such s pulmonary fibrosis or COPD. Generally, people with pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP), which is characterized by the accumulation of protein and lipid material, called surfactant, within the lung air sacs or alveoli. Lung washing is a procedure used to wash away the PAP from the lungs.

    While this type of treatment is not usually recommended for people with pulmonary fibrosis, there are other treatment options available, such as stem cell therapy. Many of our patients have reported an improved quality of life after treatment with us. You can watch their stories by clicking here. We’re happy to answer any questions you have regarding stem cell therapy, so feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149 to speak one-on-one with our patient coordinators. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  6. Jeannine clark

    1 month ago

    Can you tell me if any help for pulmonary fibrosis

  7. PB

    4 months ago

    Dear Ellis,

    First and foremost, we’re sorry to hear that your wife is going through such a difficult time. It’s important to discuss any questions or concerns you or your wife have regarding her lung disease and upcoming treatment with her doctors, especially the doctors performing the lung washing. Because your wife’s doctors know her and her health situation well, they will be able to answer your questions best. We wish you and your wife the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  8. Ellis hensley

    4 months ago

    My wife had asthma doctors in ft worth Texas are planning this procedure for tomorrow. … she also had a blood clot in her lung is this safe??

  9. sharad thattey

    1 year ago

    my wife is suffring from ild. please let me know weather lung washing can improve her condition.

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