A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is a buildup of air in the space between the 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 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, such as emphysema or lung fibrosis. Your lung may collapse after lung surgery or another medical procedure. Sometimes it happens for no known reason in an otherwise healthy person (spontaneous pneumothorax).
Treatment depends on the cause of the collapse. It may heal with rest, although your doctor will want to keep track of your progress. It can take several days for the lung to expand again. Your doctor may have drained the air with a needle or tube inserted into the space between your chest and the collapsed lung. If you have a chest tube, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions about how to care for the tube.
You may need further treatment if you are not getting better. Surgery is sometimes needed to keep the lung inflated. The doctor will want to keep track of your progress, so you will need a follow-up examination within a few days.
The doctor has checked you 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 treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter Q132 in the search box to learn more about "Collapsed Lung: Care Instructions".
Current as of: March 25, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
© 2006-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.