Can water be removed from lungs after they've been filled?

In biology class, we had some lungs, which the teacher filled with water to demonstrate how they changed when inflated. We tried to squeeze the water out, but we couldn’t. The teacher said it wasn’t possible to get the water out anymore. Is this true? Now that I think about it, it doesn’t seem likely.

Well how about not just by normal squeezing?

Little tiny air sacs (alveoli), lots of them, connected by little tiny tubes (bronchioles) to bigger tubes and up. All these surfaces now washed off of the surfactant they made them pretty easy to expand and all now pretty sticky to water molecules (hydrophilic). It’s not like squeezing a water balloon anyway.

Depends how much water, how far down into the lungs it’s gotten, and how much you want your patient to be alive at the end of removal.

CPR can push water out of the top of the lungs and bronchioles of a near-drowning victim, and the person has a pretty good shot at recovery if they regain consciousness.

I can certainly suction a small amount of aspirate from the biggest tubes leading to the lungs, and you’ll probably be okay, but on pneumonia watch. A doctor can go further in with smaller suction tools, but I don’t believe they can get into every single alveoli.

Some fluid and a conscious patient can cough, sputter and wheeze it out over a few hours or days. Some amount of it is absorbed into the body and moved out by the venous system, too. Your doctor may give you diuretic drugs to make you pee more, which will help your blood absorb more water from your lungs, and perhaps some heart medicine to make your heart work harder, too.

But if you’re talking about totally water logged full lungs? Yeah…I’ll be talking to your next of kin about organ donation. Just, um, not the lungs.

When my son was born (5 weeks early), he had a lot of fluid in his lungs after delivery. The treatment is supportive care, while the body eliminates that fluid.

I had more than one person ask me, “Why can’t they just suck that fluid out?”

It would be like trying to squeeze out a sponge by sucking on it with a drinking straw.

(BTW, said son is now 27, 6’5", and just got married!)

Exactly. People think the lungs are like balloons - big hollow sacs of air - but they’re much more like sponges, and dense sponges at that.


I went to elementary school with a girl who had liquid ventilation therapy to save her life after drowning. (Google newspaper link, Reader’s Digest abstract). I’m surprised that I can’t find more on the incident right now, as it seemed like a big deal at the time (I remember reading about in Reader’s Digest). Maybe WhyNot knows a bit more about whether the therapy has become more common in the ensuing decade and a half?

Nope. It was ultimately not found to be more beneficial than other methods, and did not get FDA approval. The manufacturers of the chemical (perflubron) are trying to find other uses for it.

Pity, really. I remember being terribly excited when they used it on the rat in The Abyss. (They used it on the rat for real, but faked it for the human.)

Yeah so for premature babies and liquid breathing, do they just suck out as much as they can and let the body do the rest? Can they suck out enough for the lungs to work?

Most babies - premature or otherwise - do not have excess fluid in their lungs. While it happens, it’s not a normal side effect of prematurity and, as **VOW **said, treatment is supportive - if their heart rate is low, you raise it, if the heart rate is too fast, you slow it. If they need oxygen (which they probably will) you give it, and if they need IV fluid or nutrition, you give it. The rest is letting the body heal itself. While you suck out what fluid you can (which you’re sucking from the big breathing tubes that go from the mouth/nose to the lungs, not from the lung tissues deep down) you mostly hope they get better as their own body processes out the extra fluid.

ETA: “Liquid breathing” is not a current treatment for premature infants. If they are so premature that they can’t breathe on their own because their lungs are immature, you give them something called “surfactant” that makes their lungs slick and able to move better, and you give them extra oxygen with a ventilator, CPAP, BiPAP or nasal canula (depending on how much help inhaling they need) and you wait for them to grow.

The premies usually are not fluid so much as that the stuff that makes it easier for those air sacs to open up (surfactant) is being made as much yet.

Another group, not necessarily premie, are those who have what is called transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN). These kids were often C-section or fast deliveries and can be thought of as not having had the fluid squeezed out as well but it is still mostly not in the sacs but in the spaces between the sacs (the interstitial spaces) and does get resorbed over a few days.

Rabbits kept alive by oxygen injections

Any opinion on “natural c-sections”, slow delivery and removal after a few uterine contractions, designed to more closely mimic the squeezing of a vaginal birth to prevent this? There was some exciting stuff coming out a few years ago from the UK, but I haven’t heard anything in a while.