What is Lung (Thoracic) Ultrasound?

In the last 15 years, a new imaging application has emerged in the clinical arena: Lung Ultrasound (LUS). From its traditional assessment of pleural effusions and masses, LUS has moved towards the revolutionary approach of imaging the pulmonary parenchyma, mainly as a point-of-care technique. Although limited by the presence of air, LUS proved to be useful in the evaluation of many different acute and chronic conditions, from cardiogenic pulmonary oedema to acute lung injury, from pneumothorax to pneumonia, from interstitial lung disease to pulmonary infarctions and contusions.

It is especially valuable since it is a relatively easy-to-learn application of ultrasound, less technically demanding than other sonographic examinations. It is quick to perform, portable, repeatable, non-ionising and therefore suitable for meaningful evaluation in many different settings, both inpatient and outpatient, in both acute and chronic conditions.

Lung ultrasound can be very useful in neonates and children. All LUS signs and patterns described in adults are alike in paediatric patients in both normal and pathological conditions.

Lung ultrasound has a relatively brief learning curve that is significantly shorter than other sonographic techniques, although it still requires proper training focused on the understanding of the ultrasound “signs” and the correct clinical interpretation of the LUS patterns. LUS is very suitable for a clinically driven, point-of-care assessment that should be tailored to the clinical suspicion and the setting.

In the next few years, point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is likely to become increasingly important in many different clinical settings and likely to establish itself as the standard of care in several acute and chronic conditions.

Adapted from Gargani, L. and Volpicelli, G. (2014) How do I do it: Lung Ultrasound. Cardiovascular Ultrasound 12:25