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Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax) Symptoms, Causes, and Outlook

What is Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)?

  • A collapsed lung or pneumothorax refers to a condition in which the space between the wall of the chest cavity and the lung itself fills with air, causing all or a portion of the lung to collapse. Air usually enters this space, called the pleural space, through an injury to the chest wall or a hole in the lung. This result is called a pneumothorax, which is the medical term for a collapsed lung.
  • There are two types of pneumothorax, tension and simple.
  • Causes of collapsed lung include
    • trauma to the chest cavity (fractured rib, penetrating trauma from a bullet, knife, or other sharp object),
    • cigarette smoking,
    • drug abuse, and
    • certain lung diseases.
  • In some cases the lung may collapse without an apparent injury, called spontaneous pneumothorax.
  • Symptoms of collapsed lung include sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens on breathing or with deep inhalation that often radiates to the shoulder and or back; and a dry, hacking cough. In severe cases a person may go into shock, which is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
  • See a doctor for any type of chest pain or suspected pneumothorax.
  • Pneumothorax is usually treated with removal of air under pressure, by inserting a needle attached to a syringe into the chest cavity. A chest tube may be used and left in place for several days. In some cases, surgery may be needed.
  • The prognosis of pneumothorax depends on its cause. In most cases once the pneumothorax has healed, there is no long-term effect on health, but spontaneous pneumothorax can recur in up to 50% of people.

What Does a Collapsed lung (Pneumothorax) Look Like?

Picture of Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)
Last Reviewed 9/11/2017

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Lung picture

What is Pneumothorax?

Free air in the chest outside the lung

Pneumothorax can occur spontaneously ("out of the blue", with or without underlying lung disease), follow a fractured rib, occur in the wake of chest surgery, or be deliberately induced in order to collapse the lung. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk for spontaneous pneumothorax.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pneumothorax »

Pneumothorax is defined as the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity.

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