Embarrassing Questions: Could a Plant Grow in My Lungs?


Roshini Raj, MD, is Health's medical editor and co-author of What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. Board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Raj is an assistant professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center and a contributor on the Today show. In our new book, Dr. Raj fields personal and provocative questions-about your body, sex, even celeb health fads.

Q: Could a Plant Grow in My Lungs?

A: In May, Ron Sveden, a 75-year-old from Massachusetts, got the shock of his life. For months, he had been suffering from coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue. He went in for a chest X-ray, and the doctor saw something. Except that the grainy spot on his X-ray wasn't cancer, a biopsy revealed: It was actually a pea seed in his lung that had split and begun to sprout.

These kinds of events are extremely rare. The reason they make headlines is precisely because they are so rare. Still, one can't help but wonder, 'Could this happen to me?' Well, yes, but it probably won't. Our body has mechanisms to keep food from going down the 'wrong pipe'-meaning our trachea instead of our esophagus. When you're swallowing food, a tiny flap covers the trachea. If for some reason, food gets past it, your vocal chords are your next safeguard. If food or water get into them, they will react and begin pushing the intruder back up. And finally, if the food actually gets into the trachea, your body has a cough reflex to keep it from going any further.

However, occasionally these three guards don't work. And because our lungs do have a lot of tiny spaces in them, there is room for something to grow. But even then, it's extremely unlikely that anything would grow in your lungs.

So, if you find yourself eating a lot of veggies, don't worry. You won't be starting a farmer's market in your lungs anytime soon.

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