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lung with spear through it holding up three fingers

My Experience With Lung Pain

As a life-long asthmatic, I have experienced lung pain since childhood in various severities, circumstances and symptoms. My lungs have felt most the sensations I imagine they can feel and, however dramatic or demoralizing that may sound, it has been my reality, my experience with asthma. Though, that’s not really the end of what lung pain was for me. In serendipitous ways, my lung pain chiseled out some of the favorite parts of who I am today. I’d like to share how my asthma and my pain has lead to some insight I needed to gain.

My experience with chronic lung pain from asthma

The lung pain came in different sensations, always dependent on what the trigger was. If the trigger was smoke or scents, my lungs burned and ached. If I was sick, with a cough, it felt sharp and piercing in parts of my lungs. The heat and cold evoked a constant feeling of lung fatigue and soreness. Essentially every time my asthma was flared up, my lungs or chest were also in pain; which was most days of my childhood.

When you’re in constant discomfort or pain for an extended period of time, it seems like you begin to acclimate to it. It feels bad, but the personal baseline shifts and you make it work. I remember playing sports or playing outside and my lungs burning. Even after some hits of albuterol, my lungs still hurt. Thinking that everyone else must feel this too, I played on through the pain, until it got way worse.

Going to the hospital when I had bronchitis, was one of the worst experiences with lung pain. It felt like I had a spear through my back, not allowing one of my lungs to inflate. I would later find out that I was experiencing a collapsing lung. While in the hospital, hardly able to breathe through a single lung, I was asked a question that everyone has heard at some point, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad does it hurt?”. I was annoyed by the question every time I was asked because I had no idea how to convey what I was feeling, certainly not by quantifying it. So, childhood-me decided to get to the bottom of our attempts to quantify the strictly qualitative experience of pain.

How my lung pain shaped my life

From the first time I typed “how pain works” into google, my ideas of how perception works has been challenged and changed. I learned how people have different tolerances, experiences, and descriptions for their pain. I came to understand that pain is something that is experiential and unique to each person, not measurable or empirical by any chemical in the body. Yet when injured or in the hospital, one of the first ways we are asked to describe our pain is with a quantification “1-10”. What are these numbers compared to? Our other experiences of pain? What if one person was feeling the same pain as another, but is comparing that pain to a bullet wound while the other compares it to a bee sting? The numbers would not at all be similar.

It was this idea, that everyone experiences pain through their subjective perception, that motivated me to study how many other facets of our health is associated with our own perception and world view. Through my studies in medical anthropology and public health, it became clear that different cultures define illness, pain, and health differently, with various associations to each other.

I love what I do now; understanding different perceptions of pain, illness, and health. Helping individual people to find remedies for their unique-personal pain or illness, that are resonant with their experience and circumstance. It all started with my own chronic lung pain.

My lung pain today

Today, I am lucky to experience less lung pain from asthma than I did as a child, because my asthma is better managed now. However, I still have flares, attacks and pain. I have found that the best way I can manage my pain is by being aware of triggers and by avoiding them, especially during a time when I am already sick and flared up.

I’ll always remember how my pain influenced my studies and professional career, how subjective it is to my experience and how others experience pain, like mine, but in their own way. My pain is uncomfortable, yes, though it has become a reminder of why it’s important to recognize and respect the sensations of pain that others experience. Each of us holds a perception of ourselves and our world that is subjective and unique. If we want to motivate and facilitate better health and less pain, then everyone’s experience should be heard and respected. This is what lung pain has been for me, in my life.


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Weezer
    5 months ago

    This is a great article. I have to say the most intense feeling i have is the twitching pain and also the muscle pain and tightening that I wake up with. Ultimately it’s the image used her in a that I feel. Thank you for sharing it’s great for me know that I am not the only one experiencing this.

  • Samuel Taylor moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hey Weezer!

    It’s great to hear from you and I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. I know how you feel. There are good days and days where we are challenged. I hope you are doing well and know that you are not alone in those challenging times.

    -Samuel, community moderator

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Weezer, and thanks for your comment. We appreciate the kind words about Samuel’s article. I’m sure he will be gratified to read what you wrote.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • tonytoshiba
    5 months ago

    Lung pain, objective or real pain?
    I’ve been to a few “chronic pain” classes, in my opinion they were a waste of my time and my money. “It is all in your head and you can wish the pain away”. Have somebody stand behind you and say, “I take your pain away”. True, foolish, yes.
    Okay and now to seriousness. Our bodies and minds were made specifically so we can survive. Pain is a good warning that something is wrong so we need to correct the problem before we are seriously injured or die.
    The regular asking of “on a scale of 1 to 10 how does it hurt”, possibly by ten people in 20 minutes. If I had never had pain and I stubbed my toe it would be a ten. If I had lived in pain my whole life and did not know better a broken bone is just a 3 or 4.
    I wrote out my 1~10 pain scale with descriptions and gave it to my migraine/pain neurologist. Her eyes kept getting bigger, finally she asked me where I got the scale from. I let her know that it was mine and it was easier giving it to medical personnel and then providing a pain level number. She let me know that my 4 would have most people calling for an ambulance to take them to ER. My advice is to write your own and have it entered into your charts, keep a copy with you, in your wallet, it will help when you are in ER or the emergency crews.
    Lung pain, yes. I’ve had asthma since I was a baby and emphysema later in life. A normal day is a level 2, a day with exacerbation of COPD or a cold and it runs up to a 5 with explosions of 7~8, while shaking in my bones.
    I would believe that I am pretty much the same as most asthmatics and COPD participants. It is accepted, we know it will always be there and we cannot always avoid triggers unless we hide from life and all enjoyments. My sweet wife tries to keep me from triggers because I refuse to give up.
    My beliefs, get out and enjoy life as much as you can. Overlook the area and walk a path which will help you avoid triggers but still allow you to enjoy. Amusement parks, fairs and the like usually have a smaller crowd on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, less irritants.

  • Shellzoo
    5 months ago

    Just last week I had a back ache that felt like it was around the bases of my lungs. It got quite painful and I got pretty frustrated not understanding why my upper back was so sore. It got to the point that I was bending over furniture trying to feel better. Then I remembered reading here how people with asthma bend over furniture sometimes to breath better. Then I thought about it and realized that I had similar pain just before my asthma was diagnosed and it went away after my asthma became better controlled. 10-15 minutes after using my Albuterol inhaler and the pain was gone. I wonder if that upper back ache is common with asthma. I don’t have chronic pain and I am told I have a very high pain tolerance but, that back pain really was uncomfortable. I never felt short of breath but my provider once told me I had asthma long enough not to know what breathing bad feels like. Nice article.

  • tonytoshiba
    5 months ago

    I feel for you and I wish your pain would end.
    Yes, the pain could be caused by your asthma. Are your neck and shoulder muscles bulging? Do they look as if you are a weight lifter? It happens to me and I try to remember to breathe through my diaphragm. My wife gently scratches my back and my muscles relax and I begin to breathe without as much strain.

  • sashabear
    5 months ago

    Interestingly enough, I went to a chiro for a different issue, and looked at a chart while I was waiting. There is a vertebrae located in the thoracic area of the back that is related to the lungs. I then understood why I get that pain when I need my inhaler:)

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Very good article about your experience with pain. It is so very interesting how different people, and different societies, can experience pain differently. I suppose it makes sense, as some people have high pain tolerances and some low pain tolerances. I always figure if you’re crying it’s a 10. But, even that may not hold true for some people. John. Site Moderator.

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