17 Warning Signs Your Lungs Are Trying to Send You

In the age of COVID, it's crucial that you don't ignore these hints of a problem in your lungs.

Unlike some of your other organs, it's much more noticeable when something is wrong with your lungs. While you can't always feel when something is off with your heart or brain, you'll definitely notice when you experience symptoms that affect how well you can do something you do constantly: breathe. And with the lungs being the main target of coronavirus, you'll want to be keep an even more watchful eye out for any changes in your breathing. Don't ever brush off anything that's affecting your day-to-day health—especially if it's one of these warning signs that there's a problem with your lungs. And for how another organ in your body tries to alert you to potential problems, check out 13 Warning Signs Your Pancreas Is Trying to Tell You Something's Wrong.

You have a long-term cough.


Have a cough that won't seem to go away, no matter how many cough drops you take? It's time to consult a professional.

"If you've been coughing for eight weeks or longer, it's considered chronic and should definitely be checked out by a clinician," says Sunitha D. Posina, MD, a board-certified internist and locum hospitalist in New York. "It could be due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary lung disease) or infections like tuberculosis and bronchiectasis." And for more signals that you shouldn't ignore, check out 30 Signs of Deadly Health Conditions Hiding in Plain Sight.

You have a dry, persistent cough.

older white woman coughing at home

Speaking of coughs, one that's dry—meaning it doesn't involve mucus—and persistent could be a symptom of coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 84 percent of study participants—all of whom had confirmed cases of COVID-19—reported having a cough. If you're worried you might have COVID-19, stay at home and call your doctor to find out if you should be tested. And for more signs of coronavirus infection, check out These Are the 51 Most Common COVID Symptoms You Could Have.

It's hard to take deep breaths.

Woman having trouble breathing

If you find it really hard to take a big, deep breath, COPD could be to blame. Because COPD—a chronic lung disease that's known for making it hard to breathe—progresses gradually, the Cleveland Clinic says it can make it harder and harder over time.

"This disease is generally associated with [tobacco use]," Jim Meyer, DO, a pulmonologist in Fort Dodge, Iowa, told UnityPoint Health. "People can experience varying severity levels of COPD. At its most severe, it can cause people difficulty doing everyday activities."

You're experiencing shortness of breath at weird times.

Girl at home can't breahe

If you're a little short of breath after exercising or taking a few flights of stairs, Posina says that's totally normal. What's not normal, however, is experiencing it at other times when there's no reason for it.

"If you're noticing that you're short of breath unusually, then it's suggestive that, most likely, there's an underlying cause," she says. "Shortness of breath isn't a sign that's exclusive to lung disease—it could be indicative of multiple lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung mass, and pulmonary fibrosis, to name a few."

You get a lot of respiratory infections.

Shutterstock/Dragon Images

If you can't catch a break, dealing with one respiratory infection after another, it could be due to a more serious issue. Johns Hopkins Medicine says having repeated respiratory infections could be from lung tumors blocking your airway. That blockage causes infections like bronchitis and pneumonia to occur more frequently, so it's certainly something you'll want to have a doctor look into. And to expand your knowledge of another essential part of your body, check out 23 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Your Heart.

You hear wheezing when you breathe.

Woman at the doctor being treated for asthma

Wheezing involves experiencing a high-pitched whistling noise when you breathe in or out, and it's something that should never be taken lightly. "The noisy breathing or whistling sound could be due to COPD, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, upper respiratory tract infections, and other causes," Posina says. Schedule an appointment right away to figure out what's behind the problem.

You're experiencing unexplained weight loss.


While there are many different health problems that could be behind unexplained weight loss, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says losing 10 pounds or more for an unknown reason is often a first sign of cancer—one that commonly occurs in those who have lung cancer, as well as cancers of the pancreas, stomach, and esophagus. And for more red flags about your well-being to look out for, check out 30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You.

You've been dealing with mucus for way too long.

Man with phlegm coughing into tissue at home

No one likes dealing with mucus. You often experience it when you have a cold or allergies, but if it's lasted longer than usual, your lungs might be trying to tell you something. "Mucus production occurs as a result of the body's defense mechanism, but if you have it chronically, then it may imply some underlying lung disorder," Posina says. That could mean chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, and other health issues.

You're coughing up blood.

Blood covered tissue

Coughing up blood, or hemoptysis, is a warning sign you should never ignore. "It usually originates in the lungs or bronchial tubes," Posina says. "It can occur in lung cancer, tuberculosis infection, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, or pneumonia." If you're coughing up a large quantity of blood, the Mayo Clinic says to never wait to see your doctor—call 911 or seek emergency care immediately.

You spotted a weird bump on your skin.

Woman looking at the red inflamed skin on her arm

According to a 2015 study published in the journal BMC Research Notes, metastases in the skin can sometimes be the first sign of lung cancer. It's something that happens in 1 to 12 percent of patients with lung cancer. Metastases occur when cancer cells spread to the skin, causing round or oval nodules that are typically painless and located on the chest, abdomen, head, and neck. And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Your voice has gotten raspy.

Man with sore throat

Your voice might change in puberty, but beyond that, it generally doesn't change again until you're an older adult. So if you suddenly develop a raspy voice, that's not normal. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the hoarseness could be due to a chronic cough or a tumor that interferes with your vocal cords, and it's a common sign of lung cancer.

Your chest feels tight.

Mid adult man having health issues. Holding his chest and wearing a protection mask.

While asthma usually begins in childhood, Meyer told UnityPoint Health you can experience it for the first time as an adult, too, as adult onset asthma can pop up in your 60s, 70s, and 80s. Aside from experiencing shortness of breath, a dry cough, and wheezing, chest tightness is also a prime symptom to be aware of—especially since it can be triggered by something as common as seasonal allergies.

It's hard to sleep through the night.

man awake in bed, signs you need a new mattress

Sometimes your lungs are to blame for not being able to get a good night's sleep. According to the Lung Health Institute, sleep disturbance is extremely common in those with COPD—so common, in fact, that past research has shown 40 percent of patients experience it. That could mean having issues with things like going to sleep or staying asleep and/or sleeping lighter, which can cause issues during the daytime like chronic fatigue and lethargy.

Exercising has become more difficult.

Tired male runner

Suddenly experiencing shortness of breath during exercise you used to be fine doing at your current fitness level is something to get a doctor's opinion on. According to the American Lung Association, that unexpected change could be a warning sign of a more serious lung condition—especially when you also have other symptoms, like chest pain, dizziness, or coughing.

You have the chills.

Sick woman wrapped in blanket

If you're experiencing the chills—where your body is shivering or shaking—along with other symptoms like a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, it could be pneumonia. The infection affects the air sacs in the lungs and could become life-threatening. "The very young and the very old are more at-risk for pneumonia and complications associated with pneumonia," Meyer told UnityPoint Health. "Patients can be at increasingly susceptible to pneumonia, based on their smoking history or just their overall immune status. If they're frail or sickly, they can develop pneumonia more readily than young, healthy, well-nourished people."

Your chest seems to hurt more often.

older woman sits on bench clutching chest, what your indigestion means

While chest pain can be due to heart conditions, it can also signal something's wrong with your lungs. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, chest pain can occur due to a lung tumor pressing on your nerves or causing tightness in your chest. Because of that, experiencing any sort of chest pain when you're laughing, coughing, or simply taking deep breaths shouldn't be ignored.

You're extra-sensitive to allergens.

pollen allergy

When your friends are only slightly bothered by allergens and irritants while it causes your airways to become inflamed, you may be dealing with asthma. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, that means experiencing wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and/or shortness of breath when you're triggered by things like dust mites, animal dander, pollen, tobacco smoke, strong odors, air pollution, and beyond.

Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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