What is Pneumothorax?

A Pneumothoraxis the medical term for a collapsed lung. This occurs when air enters what is known as the pleural space. The pleural space is an area between the cells that line the chest wall and the lungs. If there is a hole in either the wall of the chest or the lung itself, the pleural space can get inundated with air. When this happens, the carefully balanced pressure inside of the body is disrupted which means that the lung cannot stay inflated as it should, which in turn causes the collapse of the lung.

The most common cause of a pneumothorax is an injury to the chest. This can be a puncture would or even what is known as blunt force trauma which can occur in a car accident or even a fall. Various lung diseases could also cause a pneumothorax. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis, and even asthma can contribute to the development of a pneumothorax.

This condition can vary in severity and is either termed an open pneumothorax (an issue with the chest wall) or a tension pneumothorax (an issue with the wall of the lung). While most collapsed lungs have an easily detectable cause, they can also occur spontaneously.

What are the Symptoms of Pneumothorax?

Shortness of breath is perhaps the most common sign of a pneumothorax. A person may also feel tightness in their chest and will likely feel an aching pain as well. Other signs and symptoms of a pneumothorax include cold sweats, cyanosis (the skin turning blue), fatigue, and tachycardia (an extremely fast heart rate).

Pneumothorax Causes

The principal cause of pneumothorax is trauma in the chest cavity. For instance, a penetrating injury caused by a knife or bullet can puncture the lung. A fractured rib can also puncture the lung. Some other causes include:

  • Lung disease. After a disease attack on the lung tissue, the lung is likely to collapse. Damage to the lungs can be caused by diseases such as pneumonia, fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Chest injury. Any penetration of a sharp or blunt object can physically harm the lung causing it to collapse. Car crashes, physical assaults, or an accident during a surgical exercise can cause these injuries.
  • Mechanical ventilation. People who require mechanical breathing aids are predisposed to air imbalances in the lungs courtesy of an inefficient ventilator. Ultimately, the lung can fail thus causing a severe type of pneumothorax.
  • Bursting air blisters. Sometimes air blisters develop on the lungs. The blisters can break and allow air to flow to the surrounding areas of the lungs.

How is Pneumothorax Treated?

Treatment for a pneumothorax varies from conservative to invasive depending on the cause and severity of the condition. If a pneumothorax is small and is only causing minor symptoms (if any), bed rest and monitoring may be the only necessary treatment.

For a larger pneumothorax, more aggressive treatments may be necessary. A doctor may be able to perform a needle aspiration or a chest tube to get the air out of the pleural space. This can help the lung to re-inflate and may be the only necessary treatment. However, sometimes surgery is needed to correct the issue such as to close the pleural space or to remove lesions, tumors, or other growths that are contributing to the issue.

Pneumothorax Prevention

There’s no exact way of preventing pneumothorax. An individual can, however, take precautionary measures that lower the risk of acquiring the condition.

  • Since smoking is one of the risk factors of pneumothorax, quitting this habit is the most significant preventive measure one can take for both primary and secondary pneumothoraces.
  • A person can also prevent chest trauma caused by accidents by wearing seatbelts each time he or she travels in a motor vehicle.
  • Persons previously diagnosed with pneumothorax are advised to avoid self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) diving. The condition can quickly recur as air expands in the lungs as the diver ascends.
  • People with other lung problems can also prevent the condition by understanding its symptoms.
  • Early diagnosis and subsequent treatment of respiratory diseases can help prevent pneumothorax such as tuberculosis and Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia which is common in people with AIDS.