| Risk Factors
Pneumothorax is a condition in which air or gas collects in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This build-up of air can result in the collapse of the affected lung.
Pneumothorax types are defined by their cause. These include:
- Primary spontaneous—Unknown factors, but genetics plays a role.
- Secondary spontaneous—Lung disease or other health conditions, or trauma that cause weakness in the lung tissue.
- Tension—Blunt or medically-induced trauma. This is the most serious type because it may affect the heart's ability to pump blood.
Rib Fractures With Pneumothorax
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Primary spontaneous pneumothorax is more common in young men, generally from teenagers up to the age of 30. Other factors that may increase your chance of primary spontaneous pneumothorax include smoking or having a genetic abnormality.
Factors that may increase your chance of having weak lung tissue include:
Factors that may increase your chance of lung trauma include:
- Penetrating or blunt force trauma to the chest
- Having a medical or surgical procedure
- Mechanical ventilation
Pneumothorax may cause:
- Sudden, sharp pain in the chest that becomes worse during coughing or taking deep breaths
- Acute shortness of breath
- Mild fever
- Tightness in the chest
- Rapid heartbeat
- Bluish color of the skin due to a lack of oxygen
- Flaring of the nostrils
anxiety, stress, and tension
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The affected side of your chest may have reduced or absent breath sounds during a stethoscope examination. Pulse oximetry measures the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Imaging tests are necessary to see internal structures. These include:
Pneumothorax can be delayed when caused by trauma. Repeated x-rays the day after the injury may be needed.
A small pneumothorax may resolve on its own or with oxygen therapy and observation. A larger pneumothorax and tension pneumothorax always require treatment. Treatment focuses on removing the air from the space so the lung can again expand to its full capacity.
You may also need treatment for a health condition that is causing a pneumothorax.
Follow-up is an important part of the treatment plan. More than half of people with a pneumothorax have a recurrence.
Aspiration can be done with a needle and syringe insertion or a chest tube. A chest tube may remain in place until it can be confirmed that all the air is drained from the space and the lung has fully expanded. It may take several days for this to occur.
Surgery may be necessary for persistent air leaks or to prevent recurrence of pneumothorax. Surgery may include:
- Removal of weak spots in the lungs causing abnormal air pockets that may leak air
- Pleural abrasion or pleurodesis—closes the space between the lung and chest wall
- Pleurectomy—removing part or all of the lining that adheres to the chest wall
- Removing any lung lesions
To help reduce your chance of getting a pneumothorax, take these steps:
- If you smoke, talk with your doctor about how you can quit.
- Wear a seatbelt when in a motor vehicle to help prevent accident-related chest trauma.
- Be aware of the symptoms associated with pneumothorax if you have another lung disease.
- If you have a history of pneumothorax, it is often recommended that you avoid scuba diving.
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Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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