What is a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung occurs when air accumulates between the chest wall and the lung. When this happens, the lung will not be able to expand and breathing will become painful. The medical term for this condition is a pneumothorax .

A lung usually collapses as a result of a direct injury to the chest, but on occasion, the condition can occur without cause. Chest injuries can lead to broken ribs or a punctured lung. Damage without injury can include asthma, pneumonia, and other lung diseases. Cigarette smoking has also been linked to the condition.

Symptoms of a collapsed lung include shortness of breath and severe chest pain. There may also be an ongoing severe cough and pain in the shoulder muscles may be felt. The patient's pulse may become rapid and the veins may protrude from the neck.

If these symptoms appear, a doctor should be consulted immediately. A doctor should be called even if the symptoms are only temporary. The pain can have serious underlying causes.

A doctor must perform a series of tests to diagnose a collapsed lung. These include x-rays and, if necessary, a computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest. A pneumothorax can be missed with an X-ray alone. Symptoms can be relieved in the short term by pressing a pillow against the chest wall. This will relieve pain if the collapse was caused by an injury to the chest and ribs.

A more serious type of collapsed lung is called tension pneumothorax . With a tension pneumothorax, air will begin to build up under pressure and can cause serious damage to the cardiovascular area. Severe low blood pressure will occur, and if left untreated, the condition can be fatal.

Treatment for a severe collapsed lung involves removal of trapped air through a needle inserted into the chest area. The needle is attached to a tube, and decompression removes air from the chest cavity. A simple pneumothorax can also be treated this way.

Once the lung has been treated, continued visits to the doctor are necessary. X-rays and physical exams will continue until the doctor has cleared everything up. If the collapsed lung was not the result of an injury, there is a 50% chance that it will happen again.

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