Whole Lung Lavage

Whole lung lavage (WLL) is a very specific procedure that uses saline (saltwater) solution to “wash out” the lungs. It’s sometimes called lung washing.

The Interventional Pulmonology program at Henry Ford Health System has a tremendous amount of experience in performing WLL. We are one of only a few health systems in the U.S. that can perform the lavage of both lungs during the same procedure, called bilateral whole lung lavage. When we wash both lungs at once, you undergo only one anesthesia. Most people feel better right away.

Who can whole lung lavage help?

Whole lung lavage helps people who have a condition known as pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP). With PAP, deposits of a sand-like material build up in the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. PAP deposits can make it hard for people to breathe.

We perform WLL to wash this material out of the lungs. After WLL, people can breathe far more easily.

How does whole lung lavage work?

We perform the lavage procedure in our Interventional Pulmonology Center and Bronchoscopy Suite. Patients usually spend one night in the hospital after WLL.

  1. You’ll receive anesthesia (be put to sleep) so you can remain still during the procedure. Throughout the procedure, we carefully monitor your condition.
  2.  Doctors gently insert a tube through your mouth into your airways (trachea) to deliver the washing solution.
  3. While viewing the inside of your lungs through a bronchoscope, doctors wash one lung at a time. We send 20-30 liters of saline solution through each lung. Before washing the second lung, we make sure the first lung is ready to breathe for your body when you wake up.
  4. Thoracic physical therapists provide chest physiotherapy during the procedure. Chest physiotherapy is a treatment to help remove the deposits from the lungs.
  5. We collect the solution as it comes out of the lungs to make sure we clear it all from the lung. The first liters of the solution are more opaque (less clear) because they have the most deposits. suspended in them. The solution gets lighter as we clear your lungs.

What should you expect after whole lung lavage?

After WLL, you may need to use oxygen for a couple of days while your lungs finish clearing. You’ll probably experience some coughing during this time.

The procedure doesn’t eliminate PAP, but clearing the deposits allows most people to return to a full, active life. Your doctor will arrange appropriate follow-up and any other care you may need to manage your health after WLL. Find out more about our lung and respiratory care.

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