Symptoms and Signs of Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/12/2021

Doctor's Notes on Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)

pneumothorax refers to the collection of air in the chest cavity surrounding the lung that causes the lung to collapse. A pneumothorax may occur on its own (known as a spontaneous pneumothorax) in the absence of underlying disease. It may also occur as a result of trauma or injury or due to the presence of an underlying lung disease. If the lung continues to leak air into the chest cavity and results in compression of the chest structures, this is referred to as a tension pneumothorax and must be treated immediately because it may compress the vessels that return blood to the heart.

Signs and symptoms of pneumothorax include sudden onset of a sharp chest pain that may cause a feeling of tightness in the chest. Associated signs and symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • rapid breathing, 
  • fatigue, and 
  • cough.

If the lungs are not able to provide enough oxygen to the bloodstream, a bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis) may be present.

What Is the Treatment for a Collapsed Lung?

A small pneumothorax in a person who does not have underlying lung disease may not require treatment and may clear on its own in 1-2 weeks.

A larger pneumothorax or a pneumothorax in a person with underlying lung disease is typically treated by aspiration of the free air and/or placement of a chest tube to allow the air to escape.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.