Health Care

Understanding Pneumothorax: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment for Lung Health

A female physician examining an older man's breathing with a stethoscope.

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Healthy lungs empower us to breathe, speak and sing with ease, and part of taking care of them means being aware of lung health conditions — including rare ones like pneumothorax. A pneumothorax is when a collection of air becomes stuck in the pleural cavity, the area between the lung and the chest wall. This air buildup causes pressure on your lung until it collapses, either partially or entirely, leading to sudden chest pain and difficulty breathing.

A pneumothorax is a critical condition, and proper treatment is important — if you think you might be experiencing symptoms of a collapsed lung, seek emergency care immediately.

Causes of Pneumothorax

A pneumothorax can be caused by either a spontaneous or traumatic event.

A spontaneous pneumothorax can occur without any apparent cause and often affects young, tall, thin people. However, people with certain lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and cystic fibrosis, may be more likely to experience a collapsed lung as a side effect of their existing condition.

On the other hand, a traumatic pneumothorax results from blunt or penetrating chest injuries, including rib fractures or puncture wounds. Accidents, falls and sometimes even medical procedures can also lead to lung collapse.

Symptoms of Pneumothorax

People with a collapsed lung may experience symptoms like a sudden sharp chest pain on one side of the body, difficulty breathing and a rapid heart rate. They may also notice their breathing has become more rapid or shallow. While a small pneumothorax can sometimes heal on its own, it’s still important to seek medical attention immediately if you’re experiencing these symptoms, as a collapsed lung could be life-threatening if not treated.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosing a pneumothorax involves a combination of a medical history review, a physical exam and imaging tests. Your physician will first likely order a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan to examine the severity of your symptoms. Your pneumothorax treatment will depend on the severity of your condition but may include observation, chest tube insertion or surgery if necessary. Your care team will determine which treatment plan will work best for your specific needs. You can count on us to guide you through every step of the process, answering all your questions and easing your mind, so you feel informed, comfortable and confident.

Discover Expert Lung Health Care at AdventHealth

Our experienced respiratory care professionals specialize in diagnosing and treating pneumothoraxes. You can rest easy knowing you’ll receive comprehensive expert care and the support you need to get back to whole health. Learn more about our respiratory care services or schedule an appointment with our specialists today.

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