The lungs are incredibly fragile. Perhaps that’s why humans evolved a whole system of muscles and bone in order to protect them. This system did an excellent job of protecting their vital organs when we were running after herds of antelope a thousand years ago, but being slammed into by a two-ton hunk of speeding metal is a whole different deal.

There are multiple ways of suffering a personal injury to the lungs in a car accident. Of course the obvious way is a head-on accident, but side-impact accidents and rear end accidents can also do serious damage to one or both lungs. This is generally caused by compression due to seat belts. This is not to say seat belts are bad, everyone should wear them every time they drive.

Types of Lung Injuries

Lungs are not just open sacks that take in air, they are a complex system that separates CO2 and oxygen from air taken in so that the oxygen can be absorbed by the body for various functions, and then extract CO2. There are many components from the trachea to bronchus in separate lobes that can be damaged and can take a long time to heal.

When it comes to lung injuries in car accidents seat belts, steering wheels, and arm rests can have a major impact, and also chemicals and smoke. All of these can lead to different types of injuries.

Types of lung injuries:

Punctured Lung – Force from a car accident can be such that it breaks a rib and causes it to tear the lung deeply enough that it seeps air into the chest cavity putting painful pressure on the victim’s body.

Collapsed Lung – Once a lung has been punctured, it can result in a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). This happens when there’s a collection of air in the space around the lungs. This buildup of air puts pressure on the lung, so it cannot expand as much as it normally does when you take a breath and can cause suffocation if not treated right away.

Chemical Burn – Hundreds of different chemicals are used to create cars from the upholstery treatment to most of the components making up the engine. If the engine or consol catches fire, under the right circumstances the chemical fumes can burn the lungs before the smoke does. During a car accident that causes the air bags to deploy, the car can fill with a white powder. This powder is generally made up of either corn starch or talcum powder and is not usually detrimental, but can cause breathing problems for a few days if fully inhaled. However, it can last longer and have serious consequences for those with COPD and other lung function ailments.

Smoke Damage – Smoke is caused by burning material discharge and super heated particles that fill the air. During a car fire, some cars are better protected from burning the driver than others, but if the windows are rolled up, no car can remedy being filled with smoke surprisingly quick. If the victim in the car is rendered unconscious, even for a minute or two, they could suffocate. If they aren’t, even disorientation (which is common after a car accident) can cause serious smoke inhalation. A fire can produce compounds that do damage by interfering with the body’s oxygen use at a cellular level. The heat can also seriously burn the lungs causing internal scarring that could be permanent and inhibit breathing and activity level for the rest of the victim’s life.

Lung Injuries and Depression

Physical damage to the lungs is not the only damage that the victim can suffer. These injuries take a ton of time and effort to heal. Not being able to breath well can cause the patient to lower their activity level. This can result in not only prolonging the problem and weight gain, but also depression, researchers have found.

Joseph Bienvenu, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that about 40% of patients reported depressive symptoms and 66% reported impaired physical function during that time period.

“Incident depressive symptoms and incident impaired physical function are common and long-lasting during the first two years after acute lung injury,” they wrote.

This was a longitudinal cohort study (a study that collects the same set of data over long periods then comparatively studied) of 186 acute lung injury patients from 13 intensive care units at four hospitals between October 2004 and October 2007. They were all survivors of acute lung injury.

Of all of the patients studied, a total of 21% had baseline depression. Futher, 40% had baseline impaired physical function. Over two years of follow-up after acute lung injury, the incidence of depressive symptoms in 147 at-risk patients was 40%, and the cumulative incidence of impaired physical function in 112 patients at risk was 66%, they found.

“Depressive symptoms are not only relatively persistent in acute lung injury survivors; they are also an independent risk factor for subsequent impairment in physical function,” Bienvenu and colleagues wrote.

Depression triggers noted in the study:

  • Lowered activity
  • Financial stress
  • Job loss
  • Morbid thoughts
  • Higher medical comorbidities
  • Hospitalization for other illnesses
  • Lower blood glucose in the intensive care unit

The investigators concluded that depressive symptoms are a significant and potentially modifiable risk factor for late-onset physical impairment, and that clinicians should run interventions that target these in order to improve long-term outcomes in survivors.

“Early identification and treatment of depressive states should be evaluated as a potential intervention to minimize the suffering and impairment that affect so many of these patients,” they wrote.

Limitations of the study included self-report of depressive symptoms, use of medical records to identify baseline depression, and inability to account for interval treatment of either depression or physical function impairment.

Western Washington Personal Injury Attorneys

A lung injury suffered in a car accident can last or years, even a lifetime, causing the victim to not be able to enjoy the activities that enriched their lives prior to the injury. This is particularly true in the Northwest that is known for hiking, mountain climbing, biking, kayaking, skiing, and other strenuous activities that require full breath control.

But this can also extend to doing your job or simply playing with your children. Without these things it effects your life at the most basic needs level. To overcome these life altering experiences, a victim needs the resources to gain as much of their prior lung capacity as possible through physical therapy, psychological therapy, and training (both physical and occupational). This takes money that insurance may not cover.

Phillips Law Firm is a local law firm with a substantial track record of success Personal Injury Litigation. We take the time to fully assess the injured party’s case in order to assure that the victim receives the compensation they deserve. Call our Personal Injury Attorneys today for a free consultation.