What is a Lung Abscess?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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A lung abscess is a hollowed-out space in the lung filled with pus. It is surrounded by irritated tissue and is caused by an infection. The infection is a result of the inhalation of bacteria that is commonly found inside a person's mouth or throat. People with weak immune systems may develop an abscess of the lung. Fungi or organisms that cause tuberculosis may also result in the formation of a lung abscess. The abscess can also be caused by a serious infection called Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

If a tumor or other object blocks the airways, this particular type of abscess can develop in the lungs. This is because secretions can form behind the tumor. When bacteria enter the secretions, the blocked airway prevents a person from coughing up these secretions. In rare cases, a lung abscess can occur when infected blood clots or bacteria from another infected area of the body move through the blood.

Over time, a lung abscess erupts into the airway. As a result, the person coughs up a large amount of sputum. This leaves the cavity filled with air and fluid. At times, it may be necessary for the lung abscess to be removed through surgery. In some cases, the abscess ruptures into the area between the chest wall and the lungs. The area then fills with pus, causing a condition called empyema.


Symptoms of a lung abscess include fatigue, fever, a cough that produces sputum, appetite loss, and sweating. Sputum produced from the cough may emit a foul odor containing traces of blood. The person with a lung abscess may also experience chest pain as well.

He or she may even experience shortness of breath and wheezing. Those who wait too long to seek medical attention may suffer from weight loss, night sweats, and constant fever. An abscess of the lung caused by the infection Staphylococcus aureus can cause death within days or even a few hours.

If a doctor suspects that a patient suffers from an abscess of the lung, he or she will order a chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan for the patient. A bronchoscope, a long tube used to investigate the voice box and lungs, is employed to determine if the abscess is caused by a tumor or foreign object in the airways. Physicians will then treat an abscess of the lung with antibiotics for several weeks or months.

Initially, the antibiotics are transmitted intravenously and are later given orally. Patients continue to receive antibiotics until a chest x-ray reveals that the abscess has been destroyed. In rare cases, the lung abscess may need to be drained. This is accomplished by using a tube that is placed inside the chest wall and directed toward the abscess.

Other patients may need to have a portion or the entire lung removed in order to treat the abscess. People with weak immune systems or lung cancer may have less successful treatment. Patients with large lung abscesses may also find that treatment is less effective in their situations.


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