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Collapsed Lung (cont.)

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of a Collapsed Lung?

  • A collapsed lung feels like a sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens on breathing or with deep inspiration. This is referred to as "pleuritic" because it comes from irritation of nerve endings in the pleura (inner lining of the rib wall). Interestingly, the lung tissue itself does not contain pain-sensing nerve endings.
  • Pain often radiates to the shoulder and or back.
  • A dry, hacking cough may occur because of irritation of the diaphragm.
  • If a tension pneumothorax is present, signs of cardiovascular collapse and shock will occur. This is immediately life threatening.
    • The large veins in the neck may stick out, or the skin may be a bluish color because of lack of oxygen (called cyanosis). The pulse may be rapid and the blood pressure decreased. The person appears quite anxious and may have difficulty speaking. If untreated for more than several minutes, loss of consciousness, shock, and death occur.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Collapsed Lung

A doctor should be seen after any symptoms of chest pain are experienced, because of the possibility of other equally or more serious causes of chest pain.

  • After blunt trauma to the chest, such as a fall on the ribs, a doctor should be seen if you have any shortness of breath or pain associated with breathing.
  • If blood is coughed up (hemoptysis) after chest trauma or rib injury, this can be a sign of a more serious condition and should be treated by a doctor.

Call 911 for emergency medical services if there is any significant chest pain or severe shortness of breath.

  • Penetrating trauma to the chest can fracture ribs or directly cause a collapsed lung. The penetrating trauma may be caused by any of the following:
    • Stab wound from a sharp object
    • Gunshot wound
    • Blunt trauma that breaks a rib that punctures into the lung space.
  • Any collapsed lung can rapidly deteriorate into the immediately life-threatening tension pneumothorax.

How Do Doctors Diagnose a Collapsed Lung?

Examination of the chest by listening with a stethoscope and tapping techniques can suggest pneumothorax. If a tension pneumothorax is present, the signs that can occur are:

  • The blood pressure will fall as the result of decreased heart output.
  • Cyanosis or blueness of the skin will occur as the tissues lose their oxygen.
  • Decreased levels of consciousness may occur because of the low blood pressure, decreased brain perfusion, and low oxygenation.
  • Definitive diagnosis is made with chest X-rays.
    • A very small pneumothorax can be missed on routine chest X-ray.
    • The doctor may take multiple films, including X-rays in full expiration, or even a CT scan of the chest, to look for a collapsed lung.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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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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