What causes a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung is the deflation of some or all of a lung, resulting in difficulty breathing, chest pain, and low oxygen in the blood (hypoxia). Collapsed lung can refer to pneumothorax, an accumulation of air within the chest cavity, which prevents the lungs from expanding fully, or atelectasis, a deflation of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lungs.

A collapsed lung resulting from a pneumothorax begins as a hole in the lung, which allows air to escape from inside the lung and inflates the space between the lung and the ribcage. Pressure from this enlarging pocket of air causes the lung to collapse. Atelectasis is often caused by a pneumothorax, but it can be a complication of many respiratory diseases. Blockage of the airways, such as with a foreign object, tumor, or mucus plug, can also lead to atelectasis.

Pneumothorax-related causes of collapsed lung

Possible causes of pneumothorax, or air accumulation in the chest that prevents lung expansion, include chest trauma, underlying lung disease, or a ruptured bleb (small air-filled space in the lungs). Pneumothorax can also occur for no apparent reason.

  • Bleb (small air-filled space in the lung) that bursts, often because of a change in air pressure
  • Blow to the chest, such as from an air bag inflating
  • Chest trauma, such as a knife or gunshot wound or a fractured rib
  • Medical procedures, such as chest tube insertion, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and lung biopsies
  • Underlying lung disease, such as cystic fibrosis, emphysema, lung cancer, pneumonia, and tuberculosis

Atelectasis-related causes of lung collapse

Atelectasis, or collapse of the small air sacs in the lungs, is typically caused by a blockage of the airways or pressure on the outside of the lungs. Specific causes of airway blockage and lung pressure include:

  • Accumulation of mucus in the airways
  • Blood clot
  • Blow to the chest caused by a fall or car accident
  • Foreign object in the airways
  • Lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, that cause narrowing of the airways
  • Lung tumor
  • Pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid around the lungs)
  • Pneumonia

What are the risk factors for a collapsed lung?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing a collapsed lung. Not all people with risk factors will get a collapsed lung. Risk factors for a collapsed lung include:

  • Activities such scuba diving, flying, or hiking at high altitudes
  • Family history of pneumothorax
  • History of lung disease (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, or whooping cough)
  • Long-term confinement to bed
  • Obesity
  • Recent anesthesia
  • Smoking

INTRODUCTION

What is a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung is the deflation of some or all of a lung, resulting in difficulty breathing, chest pain, and low oxygen in the blood (hypoxia). Collapsed lung can refer to a pneumothorax, an accumulation of air in the chest that prevents the lungs from expanding fully, or to atelectasis, deflation of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lungs.

More specifically, a pneumothorax be... Read more about collapsed lungintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung is a deflation of the lungs, which affects normal breathing and leads to chest pain. Symptoms vary depending on whether the lung collapse is due to air between the chest wall and lungs (pneumothorax) or deflation of the small air sacs (alveoli) within the lungs (atelectasis). Symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.

Symptoms of a collapsed lung due to... Read more about collapsed lungsymptoms

TREATMENTS

How is a collapsed lung treated?

Treatment for a collapsed lung begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. The goal of treatment for a collapsed lung is to re-inflate the collapsed lung to ease breathing and improve oxygenation. Treatment depends on the severity of the collapsed lung and the cause.

Pneumothorax treatment options to re-inflate a collapsed lung

Multiple options are ... Read more about collapsed lungtreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration


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