A lung abscess is a type of infection that occurs when bacteria from the mouth or throat are inhaled (aspirated) into the lungs. This usually happens when a person is unconscious or very drowsy because of sedation, anesthesia, alcohol or drug use, or a disease of the nervous system and is less able to cough to clear the aspirated bacteria.
Typical symptoms of a lung abscess include a productive cough (coughing up bloody or pus-like material), a fever, chills, shivering, drowsiness, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, chest pain, and night sweats. These symptoms may last for days, weeks, or months before a person gets medical help.
A lung abscess usually resolves with antibiotics, which are given by IV or through the mouth until the fever goes away and the symptoms get better. Sometimes drainage or surgery is needed, depending on the cause.
Chest X-rays and CT scans are often used to diagnose a lung abscess, but these tests can sometimes look like cancer or another condition, so doctors will do other tests, such as a cytology test for identifying the organism that is causing the abscess.
The most common risk factors for lung abscesses are aspiration from the nasopharynx, mouth or stomach, a prior pneumonia, a history of alcohol abuse, bronchiectasiae or immunosuppression. In addition, pulmonary abscesses are commonly associated with other respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.