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Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax) Discharge Information

What is a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung, also called a pneumothorax, happens when air enters the space between your rib cage and one of your lungs. The air makes it hard for the lung to expand and causes all or part of the lung to collapse. It is then hard to breathe normally and your body gets less oxygen. A collapsed lung can be life-threatening. In some cases, the air collecting around the lung can completely collapse the lung and put pressure on the heart. Then the heart cannot pump normally.

A collapsed lung may be caused by an injury to the chest, such as a car accident, stab or bullet wound, or broken ribs. It may also be caused by lung damage from chronic lung diseases, electric shock, or near drowning. Sometimes there is no known cause for the lung to collapse. This is called a spontaneous pneumothorax.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

How long it takes to get better depends on the cause of your collapsed lung, your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have.


  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
  • Ask your provider if you should take aspirin. Low-dose aspirin therapy reduces the risk of stroke for women. For men, aspirin has been found to lower the risk of a first-time heart attack.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Reduce swelling in the airways
    • Help relax your airways
  • If you have had surgery, to care for your wound:
    • Keep your wound clean.
    • If you are told to change your dressing on your incision, wash your hands before changing the dressing and after disposing of the dressing.


  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments and routine tests.
  • Keep appointments for all routine testing you may need.
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or fears you have.

Diet, Exercise, and Other Lifestyle Changes

  • Follow the treatment plan your healthcare provider prescribes.
  • Get plenty of rest while you’re recovering. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine light yellow in color, unless you are told to limit fluids.
  • Exercise as your provider recommends.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk for a collapsed lung.
  • Follow activity restrictions, such as not driving or operating machinery, as recommended by your healthcare provider or pharmacist, especially if you are taking pain medicines.

Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:

  • Chest pain that does not get better with medicine
  • Coughing up blood
  • Trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray color of your lips or fingernails
  • Feeling like you are going to die

Do not drive yourself if you have any of these symptoms.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain when you take a breath
  • Chills or sweats
  • Confusion
  • Coughing up mucus that is thick or blood-stained
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound. These include:
    • The area around your wound is more red or painful
    • Your wound area is very warm to touch
    • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area
    • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C)
    • You have chills or muscle aches
  • Trouble breathing that wakes you at night or having shortness of breath when lying flat in bed
  • Wheezing
Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-12-11
Last reviewed: 2014-04-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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