Collapsed lung

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A collapsed lung is characterized as deflation of some or the entire lung which results to chest pain, difficulty breathing and hypoxia.

Generally, it starts as a hole in the lung that allows air to escape from the interior of the lung and inflates the space amidst the lung and ribcage. The pressure from this growing pocket of air results to a collapsed lung.

A collapsed lung can occur spontaneously but often develops among hospitalized individuals undergoing certain procedures and those who have chest trauma. Certain lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and asthma increases the risk for a collapsed lung as well as engaging in certain activities such as high-altitude climbing or hiking and scuba diving.

What are the indications?

Collapsed lung
A collapsed lung can occur spontaneously but often develops among hospitalized individuals undergoing certain procedures and those who have chest trauma.

Symptoms due to pneumothorax

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish discoloration of the fingernails or lips
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Nasal flaring
  • Intense shoulder or chest pain

Symptoms due to atelectasis

  • Shallow breathing
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing

Risk factors

Various factors increase the risk for developing a collapsed lung such as:

  • Family history of pneumothorax
  • Engaging in activities such as flying, scuba diving or hiking at high altitudes
  • History of lung diseases
  • Obesity
  • Long-term bedrest
  • Smoking
  • Recent anesthesia


The treatment for a collapsed lung starts with consulting a doctor. The objective of treatment is to re-inflate the lung to restore breathing and improve oxygenation. The treatment is based on the severity and exact cause.


Several options are available in managing a collapsed lung due to pneumothorax such as:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Needle insertion of air
  • Insertion of a chest tube with suction
  • Surgery


The management of atelectasis is based on the cause. In some cases, if only a small region is affected, the condition can resolve on its own. In case treatment is required, the options include the following:

  • Incentive spirometer
  • Acetylcysteine works by thinning out the mucus and allows easier coughing up of the mucus
  • Bronchodilators to allow expansion of the airways
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Chest physical therapy to clear out the mucus
  • Positive pressure devices

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on a collapsed lung is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage breathing emergencies, register for a first aid and CPR course with one of our training providers.

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