A collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, is the collection of air in the space around the lungs. This buildup of air puts pressure on the lung, so it cannot expand as much as it normally does when you take a breath.
Air around the lung; Air outside the lung; Pneumothorax; Spontaneous pneumothorax
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
A collapsed lung occurs when air escapes from the lung and fills up the space outside of the lung, inside the chest. It may be caused by a gunshot or knife wound to the chest, rib fracture, or certain medical procedures.
In some cases, a collapsed lung occurs without any cause. This is called a spontaneous pneumothorax. A small area in the lung that is filled with air, called a bleb, can rupture, sending air into the space around the lung.
Tall, thin people are more likely to have a collapsed lung.
A small pneumothorax may go away on its own. You may only need oxygen and rest. The health care provider may use a needle to pull the extra air out from around the lung so it can expand more fully. You may be allowed to go home if you live near the hospital.
If you have a large pneumothorax, a chest tube will be placed between the ribs into the space around the lungs to help drain the air and allows the lung to re-expand.
The chest tube can be left in place for several days. You may need to stay in the hospital. However, you may be able to go home if a small chest tube is used.
Some patients with a collapsed lung need extra oxygen.
Lung surgery may be needed to treat your pneumothorax or to prevent future episodes. The area where the leak occurred may be repaired. Sometimes, a special chemical is placed into the area of the collapsed lung. This chemical causes a scar to form.
If you have a collapsed lung, you are more likely to have another one in the future if you:
Are tall and thin
Continue to smoke
Have had two collapsed lungs in the past
How well a person does after having a collapsed lung depends on what caused it.
Andrew Schriber, MD, FCCP, Specialist in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, New Jersey. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.