Is a Collapsed Lung?
The oxygen-rich air you inhale circulates inside your lungs
through a network called the bronchoalveolar tree. From here, oxygen enters your
bloodstream and continues to your heart and various other organs and tissues.
A collapse of the lung, also called pneumothorax, occurs when the
air that normally circulates within your lung leaks into the space between your
lung and your chest wall called the pleural space. A buildup of air increases
the pressure on your lung, causing it to collapse. In most cases, only a
portion of the lung collapses, leaving the rest of the lung intact.
When your lung collapses, it can’t expand as fully as it normally
does when you try to breathe in. This can lead to shortness of breath and chest
pain. A severe lung collapse can cause:
- low blood oxygen levels
- respiratory failure
- cardiac arrest
A collapsed lung is a serious condition that can be life-threatening
if it’s not treated immediately.
Causes a Collapsed Lung?
A collapse of the lung can result from damage to the lungs,
trauma to the chest, or air blisters within the lung itself.
A collapsed lung is usually caused by trauma to the chest.
Traumatic events can include:
- a rib fracture
- a gunshot wound
- a knife wound
- a hard blow to the chest
- vigorous CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation
- a lung biopsy, which involves taking a sample of
lung tissue by inserting a needle into the chest
- endoscopy procedures
Damaged Lung Tissue
Damaged lung tissue can also cause a collapse of the lung.
Damaged tissue isn’t as strong as healthy tissue, so it collapses more easily.
This damage can be a result of lung diseases and infections, including:
- lung cancer
- sarcoidosis, which is a long-term inflammatory
- pulmonary fibrosis, which is a scarring of the lung
- cystic fibrosis, which is a hereditary condition
caused by a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs and other organs
Air blebs are small, air-filled blisters that form on the outer
lining of your lungs. Sometimes, these air blisters rupture and release air
into the pleural space, causing the lung to collapse. This can result from
changes in air pressure. Air blebs usually aren’t a sign of any disease or
other lung conditions.
Are the Symptoms of a Collapsed Lung?
When a collapse of the lung first occurs, you may feel a sharp pain in your chest that
gets worse when you cough. You may also have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
You may experience more symptoms if the collapse affects a larger
portion of your lung. These symptoms include:
- a rapid heartbeat
- a tight feeling in the chest
- getting tired easily
- bluish skin tone
- low blood pressure
- flared nostrils when breathing
A collapse of the lung should be treated as a medical emergency.
Even if the symptoms are mild, you should call 911 or go to the hospital as
soon as possible.
Is a Collapsed Lung Diagnosed?
Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a medical device
called a stethoscope while asking you to breathe in deeply and exhale. If your
lung has collapsed, your doctor will have trouble hearing breath sounds from
the affected lung.
Your doctor may also order imaging tests to get a better look at
your lungs. A chest X-ray is often used to diagnose a collapsed lung. Your
doctor may also perform a CT scan to view the affected lung in more detail.
Is a Collapsed Lung Treated?
Treatments for a collapsed lung are designed to restore lung
function by removing external pressure on the lung.
A mild or small lung collapse usually doesn’t require treatment.
Your doctor will monitor your condition carefully to ensure it improves over
time. You may need chest X-rays throughout the course of observation. You may
also get extra oxygen to help your lungs recover. Oxygen is usually given
through a mask. It’s important to get plenty of rest to speed up the recovery
If your lung collapse affects a larger area of your lung, you’ll
need treatment to remove the excess air from your chest cavity. Your doctor can
remove the air using a needle. The needle will be inserted into your chest near
the area of the collapsed lung. Your doctor will then pull up the syringe on
the needle to suction out the air.
A chest tube may also be used to remove the extra air. The
flexible plastic tube will be placed between the ribs and inserted into the
pleural space. A machine attached to the chest tube will then suction out the
air from your chest cavity. The chest tube may need to be left in place for
several days if you have a large lung collapse.
If an air leak is the underlying cause of the collapse, surgery
may be necessary to repair the leak. During the procedure, a surgeon will make
two small incisions, or cuts, in your chest and insert a tiny camera into one
of them to view the lung. A surgical tool will then be inserted into the other
incision and used to close the leak.
Surgery may also be done if an air bleb caused the collapse. The
surgeon will simply sew the ruptured blister closed.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
A collapsed lung usually doesn’t cause any future health
complications if it’s treated promptly. However, if the collapse was caused by
trauma to your lung, the condition can happen again. You’re also more likely
have another collapsed lung if you’re a smoker and continue to smoke
It’s important to call your doctor right away if you think you’re
having another collapse of the lung. A delay in treatment can lead to
complications or a longer recovery.