(See also Introduction to Chest Injuries.)
A severe blow to the chest (as from a motor vehicle crash or fall) can bruise the lung. The bruised lung does not absorb oxygen properly. A large bruise can cause dangerously low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. A severe pulmonary contusion is potentially life threatening.
Doctors suspect a pulmonary contusion when people become short of breath after a chest injury, especially if shortness of breath develops gradually.
A chest x-ray is taken. However, because a contusion may develop gradually, doctors may take more than one x-ray over a period of many hours to detect a contusion.
Doctors also measure the amount of oxygen in the blood by attaching a device to a finger or toe (pulse oximeter). This information can help doctors determine how well the lungs are functioning.
People are usually given pain relievers (analgesics) to lessen pain and thus help them breathe more easily.
People may need oxygen therapy or sometimes mechanical ventilation to help with breathing while the injury heals.