Burning Lungs? Here Is What They Could Be Telling You By Now

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Jane Taylor in Health & Wealth

Last updated: 21 January 2020, 06:08 GMT

There are times in our lives when we feel like parts of our bodies are burning. One common example would be a burning sensation in the eyes while chopping onions. This sensation ends quickly, but a more troubling sensation could be the feeling of burning lungs.

Aside from making breathing more difficult, this sensation could be indicating more serious problems other than the presence of an offending substance. Still, there are many different reasons that one could feel the sensation of burning lungs. An understanding of this both helps prevent panic and increases early detection of more serious problems.

What Are Burning Lungs?

Burning lungs are a painful sensation deep inside one's chest. This often occurs when inhaling, but some perceive a constant burning sensation in their chests as burning lungs. Sometimes this can occur only with a deep breath or may not be related at all to breathing.

Other times, the pain is severe enough to create shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. This can be caused by both minor and life-threatening causes. Annually, eight million people go to the emergency room for pain in the chest, but only a small fraction of these are due to serious causes.

What Are Some Possible Causes and Treatments for Burning Lungs?

There are many causes of pain in the chest and lungs. Some are minor, but many require serious or immediate medical attention.


This is one of the simplest causes of burning pain while breathing, especially inhalation. Irritation can occur from air quality, temperature, or increased demand from intense exercise. The treatment for this is to simply remove the cause of the irritation. More specific causes and treatments for irritation are written in the next section.


This condition is an inflammation of the air passages in the lungs. Commonly, patients have a dry cough that can progress to the burning sensation. Wheezing and difficulty breathing are also common symptoms. Patients often report feeling sick or having a low fever. A medical professional should perform an examination to check for more serious conditions, but bronchitis is treatable with medication and resolves in a few weeks.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a common cause of pain in the chest area. This is due to acid traveling into the esophagus from the stomach, creating heartburn. Rather than breathing, GERD is related to food and eating, and people sometimes feel a lump or sour taste in their throat. This can also create esophagitis or inflammation of the esophagus. There are medications for this condition, but some medications have the risk of creating this as a side effect.

Hiatal Hernia

Normally, the esophagus goes through an opening in the diaphragm into the stomach, which stays below the diaphragm. However, with a hiatal hernia, the stomach pushes through the hole in the diaphragm and into the chest area. Patients feel similar symptoms to GERD, but medications for GERD may not be effective since the conditions are different.


In this condition, food does not move through the stomach and intestines at the proper speed. This creates sensations of chest pain or heartburn, bloating, and sometimes vomiting or weight loss. This condition requires medical management.


This is a condition where an infection causes the lung to usually filled with fluid or pus. Other types of pneumonia can over-inflate the lung, filling it with air. Both are serious medical conditions and require medical care. The infection could be bacterial, viral, or fungal, so medications must be specific to the type of infection in order to be effective. Symptoms are not specific, with patients experiencing coughing, vomiting, and shortness of breath along with chest pain. However, this can be diagnosed by an examination from a medical professional.


In this condition, the tissues surrounding the lungs and along the chest wall become inflamed. This creates a sharp pain when patients inhale. Infections and autoimmune diseases can create this condition, but it may also be a side effect of another medication. Patients also experience coughing, pain, and shortness of breath. Treatment varies based on the cause.


In this condition, the air passages in one's lungs become constricted. That creates symptoms of shortness of breath, tightness, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma is quite common, with twenty-six million patients in America. Many medications exist for asthma.

Heart Attack

Myocardial infarction or heart attack is one of the most serious causes of chest pain. Many patients head to the emergency room for care when they experience chest pain because a heart attack can easily be fatal. However, most people with chest pain do not have a heart attack. In this condition, an artery supplying the heart with blood becomes blocked and the heart tissue begins to die. Pain can be a crushing sensation in the chest or heading to the shoulder or neck. Patients may also sweat and have trouble breathing. Emergency medical care is required to diagnose and treat this condition.


In this condition, patients experience chest pain due to a decrease of blood heading to the heart. Since the cause is similar, though less severe than a heart attack, the symptoms are very similar. Also, a patient with angina may be at risk of having a heart attack. For this reason, medical care is recommended for these patients.


One of the more common mental disorders is anxiety. When patients experience an attack, they can have sweating, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Since many cannot differentiate these symptoms from angina or a heart attack, medical evaluation is strongly recommended.


This is a condition caused by the same virus as chickenpox. The virus stays inside people's bodies after they recover from chickenpox and re-emerges later in life to cause shingles. Aside from painful breathing, this condition is characterized by a rash and blisters down one side of the body. It can be very painful. Unfortunately, it is also quite common, with one-third of adults in America experiencing this at some time in their lives.

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What Can You Do About Burning Lungs If They Are Not from an Acute Medical Cause?

The right action to take for burning lungs really depends on the cause of the burning sensation. Here are a few steps one can take when the cause is not an infection or other acute cause.

Poor Air Quality

Lungs often feel like they are burning due to toxic or unhealthy air. This often occurs when people inhale. One common cause would be air pollution in large cities, but smoke from fires can also cause similar sensations. The solution is to either move away from the toxic air or filter the air before breathing.

One important thing to note is that long-term exposure to poor air, whether from cigarette smoke, fumes, or environmental toxins, can increase the risk of lung disease. Avoiding these pollutants improves health beyond just the burning sensation in one's lungs.

Cold Air

Like air pollution, excessively cold air can create a burning sensation during inhalation. Solutions are similar, with either escape the cold air or using some covering to warm the air before breathing. However, one should seriously consider heading inside or to a warmer area for other health reasons if the cold is serious enough to cause one's lungs to burn.

Intense Workout

During a strenuous workout, one may feel like their lungs are burning. Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath are symptoms that may accompany the burning. These are not normally a problem so long as the symptoms disappear once the workout is over. If symptoms become intense, it may be wise to decrease one's workout intensity.

Chronic Conditions

When people have chronic lung conditions such as emphysema or COPD, burning in the lungs can also occur. Fortunately, there are ways to decrease these symptoms. With COPD, one easy solution is to change positions such as sitting with one's elbows on their knees or standing with one's feet shoulder-width apart.

Light exercises such as tai chi and yoga can focus on breathing and can help people relax. These activities work along with medically prescribed breathing programs and exercises to help bring relief.

Serious Symptoms to Note

If along with burning lungs one experiences wheezing, shortness of breath, or gasping without exercise, this is potentially a serious problem and one should immediately seek medical attention. Also, any symptoms of a heart attack, such as constricting pain in the chest that spreads to the left side of the jaw, should be treated as potentially life-threatening and immediate medical attention should be sought. Other serious symptoms include irregular or increased heart rates or dizziness.


Many different conditions can create the sensation of burning in the lungs. Many of them are simple, such as being exposed to toxic substances or smoke. Other causes can be much more serious, such as infections, GERD, or heart attacks. These usually require medical attention.
Even for simple conditions, it is best to avoid prolonged exposure to prevent future problems. However, the best advice is that if people do not know exactly why their lungs feel like they are burning, then they should have a medical evaluation.

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