Collapsed Lung: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

The lungs

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.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep. You may feel weak and tired for a while, but your energy level will improve with time.
  • Hold a pillow against your chest when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your chest and decrease your pain.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you have a bandage over your 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 you go 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.
  • Avoid any movements that require your muscles, especially your chest muscles, to strain. Such movements include laughing hard, bearing down to have a bowel movement, and heavy lifting. Try not to cough.
  • Do not fly in an airplane until your doctor tells you it is okay. Avoid any situations where there is increased air pressure.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

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

  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You have new pain or your pain gets worse.
  • You have a fever.
  • You cough up blood.
  • Your chest tube starts to come out or falls out.
  • You are bleeding through the bandage where the tube was put in.

Watch closely for changes in your 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.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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

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