Understanding symptoms of Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lungs)

Pneumothorax, also known as collapsed lungs, occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and chest wall, causing pressure on the lungs and making it difficult for them to expand.

Common symptoms of pneumothorax may include:

1. Sudden sharp or stabbing chest pain: This is usually localized to one side of the chest and can worsen with deep breathing or coughing.

2. Shortness of breath: You may experience difficulty breathing or feel like you can’t take a full breath.

3. Rapid breathing: Your breathing rate may increase as the body tries to compensate for decreased lung function.

4. Chest tightness or discomfort: You may feel a sense of pressure or tightness in your chest.

5. Cyanosis: Your skin or lips may turn blue due to lack of oxygen.

6. Decreased breath sounds: When a healthcare professional listens with a stethoscope, they may notice reduced or absent breath sounds on the affected side of the chest.

It’s important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the size of the pneumothorax. A small pneumothorax may not cause significant symptoms, while larger pneumothoraces can result in more severe symptoms and require immediate medical attention.

If you suspect you may have a pneumothorax, it is recommended to seek medical help promptly to receive a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What is a Collapsed Lung?

A collapsed lung, also known as a pneumothorax, occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and the chest wall. This air buildup can cause the lung to collapse partially or completely, leading to difficulty in breathing.

There are two types of collapsed lungs:

1. Spontaneous pneumothorax: This occurs without any apparent cause, usually due to the rupture of a small air sac on the lung surface.

2. Traumatic pneumothorax: This happens as a result of an injury to the chest, such as a rib fracture or puncture wound, causing air to enter the chest cavity.

Common symptoms of a collapsed lung include sudden sharp or stabbing chest painshortness of breath, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and sometimes a bluish coloration of the skin.

Treatment for a collapsed lung typically involves removing the accumulated air and allowing the lung to reinflate. This can be done through procedures like needle aspiration or the insertion of a chest tube to drain out the air. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair the lung and prevent future collapses.

It is essential to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect a collapsed lung, as this condition can be life-threatening if left untreated.

What is the surgery for pneumothorax?

The usual surgery for treating pneumothorax is called a thoracotomy or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). During the procedure, the surgeon will make an incision in the chest and insert a thin, flexible tube called a thoracoscope to view the inside of the chest cavity. This allows them to locate and repair the source of the air leak. In some cases, additional steps such as pleurodesis (fusion of the lung to the chest wall) or wedge resection may be done to prevent future recurrences of pneumothorax. It’s essential to consult with a medical professional to diagnose and discuss your situation’s most appropriate treatment options.

How effective is surgery for pneumothorax?

Surgery is considered an effective treatment for pneumothorax, especially for cases that are recurrent, severe, or in individuals who are at risk of complications. The most common surgical procedure for pneumothorax is called a thoracotomy, during which a surgeon makes an incision in the chest wall and uses sutures or staples to close the air leak. Another less invasive option is video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), in which small incisions and a tiny camera guide the repair process.

Surgery has a high success rate in preventing future pneumothorax episodes, with reported recurrence rates ranging from 1-14%. However, the decision to proceed with surgery is generally based on the individual’s medical history, the pneumothorax’s severity, and underlying lung conditions.

It is worth noting that not all cases of pneumothorax require surgery. In some instances, smaller pneumothoraces may resolve on their own or be treated with less invasive methods like observation, aspiration (removing air with a needle), or the placement of a chest tube to remove the excess air.

Ultimately, consulting with a healthcare professional who can evaluate your case and determine the most appropriate treatment for you is essential.

Picture of Marco Scarci
Marco Scarci

Highly respected consultant thoracic surgeon based in London. He is renowned for his expertise in keyhole surgery, particularly in the treatment of lung cancer and pneumothorax (collapsed lung). He also specialises in rib fractures, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), chest wall deformities and emphysema.



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