Crackles in the lungs when breathing can be a scary symptom.
It’s often referred to as “crackles” or “rales” among patients and doctors.
Patients describe it as a crackling noise in one or both of their lungs upon respiration.
Usually, you need a stethoscope to hear it. If both lungs are presenting a crackling sound, then doctors refer to it as bilateral crackles.
Basal crackles are crackles that originate at the base of the lung.
If you have bilateral basal crackles, then this means you have crackles at the base of both lungs.
As you’ll learn about below, this symptom typically occurs in people with pulmonary fibrosis, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, atelectasis, and more.
What Makes the Crackling Noise?
The crackles can be heard whenever the small airways explosively open.
The crackle is usually very short, and is most commonly heard during inspiration. It’s also possible to hear it when expiring.
While the causes vary, this symptom is associated with an infection or inflammation of the bronchioles as well as the air sacs of the lungs (alveoli).
If the crackles don’t go away after you cough then this is an indication that you have pulmonary edema.
It could also indicate problems with your heart as well as pulmonary fibrosis.
Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) refers to a family of related diseases that result in scarring of the lungs.
Over time, the continual scaring of the lungs can make it difficult to breath.
Doctors can’t always determine the cause of this disease. In these cases, it’s said to be “idiopathic”, meaning the origins are unknown.
So, if you have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), then this means you have pulmonary fibrosis without a known cause.
Crackly lungs isn’t only the symptom associated with PF. People with this disease also experience shortness of breath, shallow breathing, tiredness, dry coughs, and unintended weight loss.
Acute bronchitis is when the bronchial tree in the lungs becomes inflamed.
The inflammation produces thick mucus that can cause you to cough. If the mucus becomes too thick, it can be difficult to breath and lead to crackly lungs.
Acute bronchitis typically lasts for one or two weeks on average. This is different than chronic bronchitis, which lasts for much longer.
You may also experience wheezing, chills, and body aches. What causes it? Viruses can cause acute bronchitis, as well as certain bacteria and fungi.
It’s also possible that you’ve been exposed to a chemical irritant in the air. The lung crackles associated may be heard by your doctor.
Crackles can also be due to atelectasis. Atelectasis is the collapse of the lung. In can be the partial collapse of the lung or a complete collapse.
This happens whenever the alveoli- the air sacs within the lung- become deflated. What causes it?
There are many potential causes:
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Lung Tumors
- Fluid in the Lung
- Physical Trauma
- Respiratory Weakness
It can also occur if you’ve inhaled a foreign object. There are different treatment options depending on how severe the collapse is.
If you’re having difficulty breathing, then we recommend seeking a medical practitioner as soon as possible.
Another cause of crackles in the lungs that we’re going to talk about is pneumonia.
Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs of the lungs to get inflamed.
The inflammation can occur in one lung or both. As the air sacs begin to full of pus, it can become increasingly difficult to breath.
The main causes of pneumonia are fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Pneumonia is quite common and affects millions of people around the world.
It can range from mild to life-threatening. Very young children, as well as people over the age of 65, are most likely to get it.
If you’ve got lung crackles from pneumonia, seek medical help.
Here are a few additional causes to consider:
- Post-Nasal Drip: Post-nasal drip can make its way down your throat and into your lungs, leading to lung crackling.
- Croup: When the vocal cords become swollen, its referred to as “Croup”. It’s oftentimes caused by a viral infection.
- Heart Failure: When the hart gets damaged from a heart attack or an infection, then it can lead to congestive heart failure. This can cause a buildup of fluid within the lungs, leading to crackling.
- Emphysema: Emphysema is when the air sacs within the lungs stop doing what they’re supposed to. You may develop wheezing and have difficulty exhaling, along with crackles.
Some of these causes are relatively harmless (like post-nasal drip or croup) while some are quite serious (heart failure and emphysema).
With so many possibilities, trying to diagnose yourself online isn’t recommended.
How to Manage Crackly Lungs
How can crackles in the lungs be treated? There’s no universal treatment option unfortunately. It depends on the underlying cause. Here are a few:
- Antibiotics: If you have bronchitis or pneumonia that’s caused by bacteria then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to get rid of it. Antibiotics will not work if your symptoms were brought on by a virus (in that case, anti-viral drugs are needed).
- Bronchodilators: In cases where your airway is being constricted, you should use bronchodilators. This will help open your way so that you can breathe normally again (and hopefully get rid of your crackly lungs).
- Surgery: Surgery is typically reserved for severe medical situations in which a tumor needs to be removed or fluid needs to be drained from the lungs. The type of surgery will depend on the underlying pathology.
There are a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing crackles in the lungs.
These include smoking, being obese, have a family history of lung cancer, and lung trauma.
Also, smoking or breathing in harsh chemicals can increase your risk.
If you have one or more risk factors, work on eliminating them from your life.