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What is a pneumothorax? Is it the same thing as a collapsed lung?



Pneumothorax is a condition in which air gets between your lungs and your chest wall. Pneumothorax is one cause of a collapsed lung — a serious, sometimes life-threatening, condition.

Normally, two thin layers of moist tissue (pleura) separate your lungs and chest wall. Any air that leaks through lung tissue into this space (pleural space) will cause the lung tissue to collapse in proportion to the amount of air that enters the pleural cavity.

Air can collect in the pleural space for many reasons, including:

  • An injury that damages the chest wall, such as a stab or gunshot wound
  • A broken rib that punctures the lung
  • A procedure or surgery that involves the lung or chest wall
  • Spontaneous pneumothorax, which is thought to be due to the rupture of an air-filled blister on the surface of the lung

In many cases, the cause of a pneumothorax can't be determined. People with underlying lung disease, such as asthma or cystic fibrosis, may be at increased risk of pneumothorax.

Signs and symptoms of pneumothorax include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

A doctor can confirm a diagnosis of pneumothorax by a chest X-ray. Occasionally, the air leak seals itself. Depending on the severity, a doctor can remove the air from the pleural space with a tube inserted between the ribs and attached to a suction device. Surgery may be needed when suction isn't effective or for recurrent pneumothorax.

If air continues to enter the pleural space, tension pneumothorax occurs. The large amount of air may push the center of the chest (mediastinum) toward the other lung, compressing it. This is life-threatening and requires immediate insertion of a chest tube between the ribs to relieve the increased pressure.

Collapsed and normal lung

Collapsed and normal lung

A pneumothorax is a condition in which air gets between your lungs and chest wall. This can cause the lung to collapse.

Last Updated: 03/09/2006
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