Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration

Collapsed Lung: Injury-Related

What is a collapsed lung?

A collapsed lung happens when air enters the space between your rib cage and one of your lungs. The air makes it hard for your lung to expand and causes part or all of the lung to collapse. When this happens, your body gets less oxygen. A collapsed lung can be life-threatening. If the air completely collapses your lung, it puts pressure on your heart. Then your heart cannot pump normally. A collapsed lung is also called a pneumothorax.

What is the cause?

A collapsed lung is usually caused by an injury such as:

  • Car accidents
  • A stab or bullet wound
  • Fractured ribs Electric shock
  • Drowning

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing and feeling short of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded if you are not getting enough oxygen

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Blood tests

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and size of the collapsed lung and how long you have had it. Treatment is usually done in the hospital, often in the emergency room. You will be given oxygen if you need it.

If only a small part of your lung collapsed and you have mild or no symptoms, you may not need treatment. The extra air in the chest is usually absorbed by your body over the next few days. You may be allowed to go home the same day. You will need follow-up chest X-rays to make sure your lung is working properly and the air is being absorbed.

If a large part of your lung has collapsed, the air needs to be removed from your chest right away so your lung can fill with air again. This may be done with:

  • Thoracentesis, which uses a needle inserted through a space between your ribs to draw out air. You will feel immediate relief, but it may take several days for your lung to completely fill with air again.
  • A chest tube, which is a flexible tube inserted between your ribs into your chest. Suction is often used to help drain fluid and air from the space between your rib cage and lungs.

You may need to stay at the hospital for several days if air was removed from your chest with a needle or with a chest tube. You will be checked to make sure your lung is filling with air and is not likely to collapse again.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Prop pillows behind your head and chest when you lie down to help you breathe and relieve chest pain.
  • Take nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to treat pain and fever. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Take cough medicine if recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking (secondhand smoke).
  • Avoid breathing dust and chemical fumes.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I prevent an injury-related collapsed lung?

Collapsed lungs are often caused by car accidents. To help avoid chest injuries, wear seat belts and use airbags. Make sure that your child is buckled into an approved car safety seat. All children under 13 years of age should ride in the rear seat of vehicles. Never place a child in the front seat of a vehicle if it has an airbag.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
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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