It’s no secret that healthy and long sleep is the paramount factor for a healthy and lively lifestyle. However, some acute, as well as chronic conditions can mess with your plans and ruin your sleep. Anything from a little cold that obstructs your airways to chronic heart failure can put pressure on your lungs and lead to fluid built-up in your airways and lungs. This condition is dangerous and can be life-threatening whether it’s acute or chronic.
Fluid in the lungs is a symptom known as pulmonary edema. It’s not a disease or a condition on its own, but rather a symptom that appears in case of both acute infections and chronic conditions. In terms of acute infections, the culprit behind this symptom is likely pneumonia that either went untreated for too long.
When pulmonary edema appears as a chronic condition, the real cause is most likely heart failure, although it can also appear as a result of cancer. Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump the blood strong enough, leading to a buildup of fluid in your airways.
It is characterized by specific symptoms such as wheezing and crackling sound in your chest, difficulty breathing while lying in bed or during physical activities, waking up fighting for breath, weight gain and swelling in the legs and arms, general swelling and cough that is either dry or causes you to spit pink-looking sputum.
Having either of these symptoms can be a medical emergency, regardless of what causes fluid in the lungs for you. More importantly, these symptoms can mess with your sleep even if your symptoms are under control.
That’s why we wrote this article. Sleeping with fluid in the lungs can be stressful and unnerving even if your symptoms are under control and regularly checked by the doctor. We detailed all the ways you can sleep in peace, but first, we need to find out what condition causes this symptom. Read on!
What Causes Fluid in Lungs?
As we said, there are acute and chronic causes of fluid in the lungs. To be more specific, we will call these causes cardiogenic and non-cardiogenic causes. Cardiogenic causes of pulmonary edema are related to heart failure and other heart conditions, while the latter is associated with acute causes.
Heart-related Fluid in Lungs
Here is a list of cardiogenic conditions that cause fluid in the lungs. That means that the pulmonary edema you’re experiencing is a result of heart failure. Here are the conditions that cause it.
- Cardiomyopathy: manifests as damage to the heart muscle. That means that your heart must put in an extra effort to pump your blood properly. It can also cause higher blood pressure. Pulmonary edema in this case occurs due to extra strain put on your heart when you’re exercising or straining your body.
- High Blood Pressure: Just like cardiomyopathy raises blood pressure and potentially results in edema, so does regular blood pressure that is caused by stress, poor sleeping habits, eating unhealthy food, being obese, and others. If you don’t put your pressure under control, it can result in enlargement of the heart, according to experts.
- Coronary Artery Disease: Due to plaque, bad cholesterol, and elevated triglycerides your arteries can weaken and become narrower. As a result of that, a blood clot can form which can block the arteries but also damage the heart muscle. As a result of a heart attack, a fluid can develop in your lungs.
- Kidney Disease: Sometimes, poor filtering processes of the kidney that is damaged, can lead to increased blood pressure, which finally results in pulmonary edema. It’s very important to use diuretics in this case.
Editor’s notes: All these conditions have very specific symptoms. It’s important not to self-diagnose but seek a doctor’s help. They’ll run analyses on you and help you identify the condition causing pulmonary edema. Also, don’t self-treat yourself, as it can be fatal.
Non-Heart-related Fluid in Lungs
Some more acute conditions can cause pulmonary edema, let’s look into the below diseases.
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): is caused by all sorts of acute injuries and infections such as pneumonia, injury to the lungs, sepsis, bleeding, and others. It can also be caused by bacterial and viral infections that obstruct the lungs.
- Pulmonary Embolism: When a patient has deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) a blood clot can break from the veins in their legs and arms and get stuck in the lungs, which can cause fluid build-up in the lungs. This is an emergency condition and needs to be looked into.
- Allergic Reaction to a Medicine: Allergy reactions to certain drugs such as aspirin can result in fluid in the lungs. However, abuse of different drugs can also result in pulmonary edema, especially if you overdose on heroin, cocaine, and other similar drugs.
- Intoxication: If you work in an environment that is surrounded by toxic substances, there’s a chance you inhaled some of it. Alternatively, breathing in the acid from the stomach can cause irritation in your airways which ultimately results in pulmonary edema.
- Sleep apnea: Unfortunately, heart problems that are a result of sleep apnea can also end up with pulmonary edema, studies have shown. Sleep apnea is a temporary obstruction to the airways in your sleep, causing you to wake up gasping for breath.
- High-Altitude-Caused Pulmonary Edema: It can sometimes happen to people residing at high altitudes, mostly alpinists, hikers, and mountain climbers. It mostly happens to people who reside above 8,000 feet, but it varies from person to person. It’s also referred to as HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and it mostly affects people who didn’t immediately adjust to higher altitudes.
- Fire Hazard: Sometimes, those who inhaled too much smoke in emergencies such as fire can experience fluid buildup in their air sacs within the lungs. That’s because along with the fire smoke, people also inhale various unsafe substances.
- Negative Pressure Pulmonary Edema: In case there was intense congestion in your upper respiratory tract, it can result in negative pressure hitting your lung wings, especially if you’re hyperventilating and struggling to breathe. Luckily, this type of pulmonary edema is easily treatable if you ask for help immediately.
How to Sleep With Fluid in Lungs?
There are different ways to sleep if you have pulmonary edema and it’s well-controlled. A lot of people wake up gasping for air, feeling scared and anxious that they won’t be able to breathe once they fall asleep. Luckily, this can be controlled, and you can sleep soundly with the following tips.
1. Sleep on Your Side
A lot of people feel like sleeping on their back would just make their symptoms worse, causing the fluid to travel back up towards the throat and cause a choking and suffocating sensations. That’s why it’s recommended for people who have pulmonary edema to lay on their side.
However, you need to ensure that your back is in a neutral position, and remains straight so that there’s no additional pressure on your lungs. It’s worth noting that this is a desirable position if you have pneumonia and find it difficult to breathe.
This way, you won’t have to lay on your back. Instead, you can lay on the side. Pneumonia patients are best off sleeping on their side or stomach. That way, the lungs can expand fully, and won’t be suppressed by the pressure caused by lying flat on the back.
Editor’s notes: Doctors recommend placing a pillow between your legs so that your back can remain straight. It’d be best if it is a wedge pillow between your thighs that gives you control over your laying position. Additionally, you should bend your knees a little and place the pillow under them if placing them on the thighs feels uncomfortable.
2. Back Position With Extra Pillows
In case your pulmonary edema is caused by a chronic condition like heart failure, then you can also lay on your back. However, it’s worth mentioning that laying on your back with pulmonary edema is not advisable if you’re struggling to breathe too much.
Nevertheless, what you can do is place a few pillows on top of one another. Usually, it’s 2 to 3 pillows, and if you have a lot of low-profile pillows, you can stack up even four of them. It’s important to place your head in a position so that it’s supine, meaning that your head is facing upwards.
Editor’s notes: This position will make your bedtime a lot easier for you. However, keep in mind that for some people, this position can make things much worse. If you feel like you’re uncomfortable switch onto your side.
3. Use a Recliner
Another possibility for people with pulmonary edema is to sleep in a recliner chair. If you were hospitalized and slept in an adjustable bed, some doctors will likely recommend you to sleep in a recliner chair, if you have one.
It’s always important to keep your head and neck elevated, above the level of your heart and lungs. That way the water won’t travel upwards towards your upper respiratory tract. Of course, the recliner is not an option for everyone, but if it is for you, you should try it out and see whether you can sleep easier.
A lumbar pillow can also help keep your back in neutral position, while the travel pillow can help your neck feel less stiff when you wake up.
Editor’s notes: Make sure to keep your legs elevated too. Keeping them in a sitting position for too long can cause you trouble as that water will travel down to your lower legs, making them swell up.
4. Use CPAP Machine
If you suffer from acute pulmonary edema then a CPAP machine may be the right thing for you, and something that your doctor should prescribe you. According to study, it’s the most effective treatment of acute pulmonary edema.
CPAP machines work in a way that delivers oxygenated air straight into your lungs, delivering enough oxygen to the part of the lungs that can’t reach for the air due to alveoli being submerged under the fluid that’s been filling up the lungs.
This is maybe the best option you can have to treat pulmonary embolism because it will keep your lungs working optimally, and help you preserve your sleep even during your toughest nights.
Editor’s notes: It’s worth noting that CPAP machines are used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, which is a condition that obstructs the air as you sleep. Sometimes this condition can result in pulmonary edema, which is why a CPAP machine is a great treatment for both.
5. Avoid Salt-Rich Food
If pulmonary edema is a result of heart failure of any kind, the doctor will recommend and urge you to make certain lifestyle changes such as activity, and changes in diet. They will advise you to eat less fatty-rich food and also cut on the salty food because it can lead to fluid retention.
The salty foods bind to certain minerals in your body, while fats can obstruct your blood vessels. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to eat healthily and avoid foods that have saturated fats and a lot of salts in them.
Study showed that eating sodium-rich food, and generally salty food, you’re more likely to retain fluid and develop pulmonary edema.
Editor’s notes: One of the popular things to take when having fluid in the lungs is diuretics. It’s special supplements that will drain the water out of the areas where the water retention happened, allowing you to expel it through urine. This is also among the most common treatments for pulmonary edema.
6. Weight Loss
Finally, the long-term goal you want to complete is to lose the excess weight that’s been holding you down. There are fast ways to do it, but they may not be sustainable in the long run and can cause a jo-jo effect, which results in weight gain.
It’s no secret that with pulmonary edema, the weight fluctuates because of the fluid buildup in the body. Losing weight means that less fluid will be kept in your limbs, but also around the chest. According to study increased hydration can help with weight loss because it can help break down sodium that bound with water, causing natural diuretic reaction.
Editor’s notes: Losing just a few percent of your weight can yield great results for your overall health. Explore different activities and diet plans that can help you lose weight effectively and permanently.