First Time User? Enroll now.
*Vaccine availability and appointments* | Visitor and mask policies | Additional COVID-19 resources.
Home > Health Library > Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)
A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is a buildup of air in the space between the lung and the chest wall (pleural space). As the amount of air in this space increases, the pressure against the lung causes the lung to collapse. This prevents your lung from expanding properly when you try to breathe in, causing shortness of breath and chest pain.
A pneumothorax may become life-threatening if the pressure in your chest prevents the lungs from getting enough oxygen into the blood.
A pneumothorax is usually caused by an injury to the chest, such as a broken rib or puncture wound. It may also occur suddenly without an injury.
A pneumothorax can result from damage to the lungs caused by conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, cystic fibrosis, and pneumonia. Spontaneous pneumothorax can also occur in people who don't have lung disease. This happens when an air-filled blister (bleb) on the lung ruptures and releases air into the pleural space.
People who smoke cigarettes are much more likely to develop a pneumothorax than those who don't. Also, the more you smoke, the greater your chances are of having a pneumothorax.
Symptoms depend on the size of the pneumothorax. In minor cases, you may not realize you have a pneumothorax. In more severe cases, symptoms will develop rapidly and may lead to shock.
Symptoms may include:
Symptoms may become worse with altitude changes (such as flying in an airplane or going underground or underwater).
A pneumothorax usually is diagnosed through a physical exam and a chest X-ray. Your doctor may also perform blood tests to measure the level of oxygen in your blood.
A computed tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound may be needed to diagnose the severity of your condition and help plan your treatment.
A minor pneumothorax may only require observation by your doctor; in some cases, oxygen may be given (through a mask). More serious cases are treated by inserting a needle or a chest tube into the chest cavity. Both of these procedures relieve the pressure on the lung and allow it to re-expand.
Surgery may be needed if the original treatment does not work or if the pneumothorax returns.
If you have had one pneumothorax, you have an increased risk for another. Nearly all recurrences happen within 2 years of the first pneumothorax. If you smoke, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of another pneumothorax.
Other Works Consulted
Wakai AP (2011). Spontaneous pneumothorax, search date January 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.