A collapsed lung occurs when air enters the space between the lungs and the chest wall, causing part of the lung to collapse. The medical term for the condition is pneumothorax. A collapsed lung can be caused by numerous things, including physical trauma to the chest cavity such as that experienced in a car accident or fall, lung diseases or some medical procedures. In rare cases, it can also occur spontaneously for no apparent reason or because of a ruptured cyst.
One of the primary symptoms of a collapsed lung is chest pain. In many cases it is a severe, stabbing pain that becomes worse when taking deep breaths. In some instances, the pain may also be felt in the shoulder and back. Chest pain is a symptom of various medical conditions, several of them quite serious. Chest pain should always be evaluated by a medical professional.
Shortness of Breath
People with a collapsed lung will typically experience shortness of breath. This occurs because lung capacity is diminished because of the collapse. Some people with a pneumothorax may also feel some tightness in the chest. Depending on how much of the lung is collapsed, the chest tightness may not be that noticeable. However, most people with a collapsed lung report shortness of breath as one of the primary symptoms. It is typically noticeable as soon as the lung collapses.
Other symptoms of a collapsed lung include a rapid heart rate and cyanosis, a condition in which the skin turns a bluish color because the body is not getting a sufficient amount of oxygen. These symptoms are sometimes dependent on the severity of the collapse. In cases of a small pneumothorax, some people may experience virtually no symptoms. This is rare, however.
A collapsed lung can oftentimes be diagnosed when a doctor listens to a patient's breathing with a stethoscope. In the affected lung, breathing sounds will not be heard. A doctor will usually order a chest X-ray or another imaging test to confirm the diagnosis.
A small pneumothorax can often heal on its own, but more severe cases will require medical treatment. Common treatment options include inserting a tube or needle into the chest wall to remove that air that has caused the lung to collapse, allowing it to reinflate. In patients where the condition continues to occur, surgery may be necessary to close the leak that is causing the lung to collapse.