When a compressive impact load is applied on the chest, as in automobile crash or bomb explosion, the lung may be injured and show evidences of edema and hemorrhage. Since soft tissues have good strength in compression, why does a compression wave cause edema? Our hypothesis is that tensile and shear stresses are induced in the alveolar wall on rebound from compression, and that the maximum principal stress (tensile) may exceed critical values for increased permeability of the epithelium to small solutes, or even fracture. Furthermore, small airways may collapse and trap gas in alveoli at a critical strain, causing traumatic atelectasis. The collapsed airways reopen at a higher strain after the wave passes, during which the expansion of the trapped gas will induce additional tension in the alveolar wall. To test this hypothesis, we made three new experiments: (1), measuring the effect of transient overstretch of the alveolar membrane on the rate of lung weight increase; (2) determining the critical pressure for reopening collapsed airways of rabbit lung subjected to cyclic compression and expansion; (3) cyclic compression of lung with trachea closed. We found that in isolated rabbit lung overstretching increases the rate of edema fluid formation, that the critical strain for airway reopening is higher than that for closing, and that these critical strains are strain-rate dependent, but independent of the state of the trachea, whether it is open or closed. Furthermore, a theoretical analysis is presented to show that the maximum principal (tensile) stress is of the same order of magnitude as the maximum initial compressive stress at certain localities of the lung. All these support the hypothesis. But the experiments were done at too low a strain rate, and further work is needed.

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