Reader Erica, after a coughing fit, wanted to know: Could someone literally “cough up a lung”?
Nope. Fortunately, your lungs are too large to fit through your trachea, so they’re not going to come flying out of your mouth. They don’t necessarily stay where they belong, though, as two British doctors reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
According to the doctors’ case report, a middle-aged female patient in Birmingham, UK had been experiencing chest pains for a few days, and drove herself to the hospital to have it checked out. She told her doctors that she had asthma and had been coughing especially hard for a few weeks before the pain started.
During the exam, the doctors listened to her chest and noted some popping sounds on the right side. An X-ray and CT scan revealed the source of the pain and the noise. The woman had coughed so hard that she herniated her right lung, coughing it not up, but out through the space between her two lowest ribs. You can see the images here.
This isn’t even the worst or grossest thing that can happen to you while coughing. That would probably be a condition called “intermittent exophthalmos,” which is what doctors call it when someone’s eye protrudes out of its socket.