Collapsed Lung in Children: Care Instructions

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Picture of a child's lungs

Your Care Instructions

A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is a buildup of air in the space between your child's lung and the chest wall. As more air builds up in this space, the pressure against the lung makes the lung collapse. This causes shortness of breath and chest pain because your child's lung cannot fully expand.

A collapsed lung is usually caused by an injury to the chest, but it may also occur suddenly without an injury because of a lung illness. Your child's lung may collapse after lung surgery or another medical procedure. Sometimes it happens for no known reason.

Treatment depends on the cause of the collapse. It may heal with rest, although the doctor will want to keep track of your child's progress. It can take several days for the lung to expand again. The doctor may have drained the air with a needle or tube inserted into the space between your child's chest and the collapsed lung. If your child has a chest tube, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions about how to care for the tube.

Your child may need further treatment if he or she is not getting better. Surgery is sometimes needed to keep the lung inflated. The doctor will want to keep track of your child's progress, so your child will need a follow-up examination within a few days.

The doctor has checked your child carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Help your child get plenty of rest and sleep. Your child may feel weak and tired for a while, but his or her energy level will improve with time.
  • Tell your child to press a pillow against his or her chest when coughing or taking deep breaths. This will support the chest and decrease pain.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your child has a bandage over the chest tube, or the place where the chest tube was inserted, keep it clean and dry. Follow your doctor's instructions on bandage care.
  • If your child goes home with a tube in place, follow the doctor's directions. Do not adjust the tube in any way. This could break the seal or cause other problems. Keep the tube dry.
  • Try to help your child not to laugh too hard, cough too hard, or move around too much. These actions can strain your child's chest muscles.
  • Do not let your child fly in an airplane until your doctor tells you it is okay. Avoid any situations where there is increased air pressure.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse trouble breathing.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child coughs up blood.
  • Your child's chest tube starts to come out or falls out.
  • Your child is bleeding through the bandage where the tube was put in.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • The skin around the place where the chest tube was put in is red or irritated.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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