Collapsed Lung

The collapse or caving-in of all or part of a lung occurs when air gets into the area between the lung and the chest wall. If this happens, the lung cannot fill up with air as you take a breath. It may occur spontaneously without a known cause, often in healthy people. Medically, the condition is known as a pneumothorax (nu-mo-THOR-ax).



Often, collapsed lung is due to rupture of an air pocket or bleb (fluid filled sac) in the lung. Changes in pressure during diving, flying, or even stretching can cause a bleb to break. Asthma or infections in the lung also can cause a rupture.


Usually, the bigger the collapse of the lung, the worse the signs. Common signs are sudden, sharp pain located on the side of the affected lung; trouble breathing; fast breathing; or coughing. When you breathe in, there's a possibility that your chest may appear lop-sided or asymmetrical.


Whether you are in the hospital or not, you will need a chest x-ray. If the lung collapse is small, it may go away on its own, and you may be allowed to go home. If it is larger or causing breathing problems, you will be admitted to the hospital.


If only a small part of the lung is collapsed, it may heal by itself. But if a large collapse is not treated, your lungs may fail or become infected.


Call Your Doctor If...

  • You have a high temperature.
  • You have increased chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You have pain when you cough.
  • You cough up sputum that is yellow, green, or gray.

Seek Care Immediately If...

  • You have sharp, sudden chest pain and trouble breathing. You may also have a dry cough with these signs. Have someone drive you to the nearest hospital immediately, or call 911 or 0 (operator).


What to Expect While You're There

You may encounter the following procedures and equipment during your stay.

  • Chest X-ray: This picture of the lungs will show the location and size of the collapse.
  • Chest Tube:
    • A tube may be placed in the side of your chest to let out the air surrounding the lung. The tube may be hooked up to underwater drainage or gentle suction. Removing the air outside the lung allows it to re-expand.
    • If the tubing is kinked, the tape becomes loose, or the tube comes apart from the rest of the system, call a nurse at once.
  • Medicine: You may need pain-killing medicine. This will allow you to breathe more easily and take deeper breaths, which will help prevent a lung infection. You may also need cough medicine.
  • Coughing and Deep Breathing: It is important to do this often because it helps keep your lungs from getting infected.
    • To ease your pain during coughing and deep breathing, you may need to loosely wrap your rib cage with a 6-inch elastic bandage.
    • Holding a pillow tightly against your chest when you cough can help reduce the pain. Lying on the side that is hurting may also help ease the pain.
  • Cold/Heat: A cool towel or heating pad (set on low) may be placed on the chest to help relieve the pain.
  • Sputum Sample: If you are coughing up sputum, your doctor may need to send a sample to the lab. This sample may reveal an infection. It will also help the doctor choose the medicine you need.
  • Other Care: You may need surgery if your lung keeps collapsing. Another possible treatment is injection of a substance that will harden the tissue of the collapsed part of the lung.
  • Taking Vital Signs: These include your temperature, blood pressure, pulse (counting your heartbeats), and respirations (counting your breaths). A stethoscope is used to listen to your heart and lungs. Your blood pressure is taken by wrapping a cuff around your arm.
  • Oxygen: Your body may need extra oxygen at this time. It is given either by a mask or nasal prongs. Tell your doctor if the oxygen is drying out your nose or if the nasal prongs bother you.
  • Pulse Oximeter: While you are getting oxygen, you may be hooked up to a pulse oximeter (ox-IM-uh-ter). It is placed on your ear, finger, or toe and is connected to a machine that measures the oxygen in your blood.
  • ECG: Also called a heart monitor, an electrocardiograph (e-lec-tro-CAR-dee-o-graf), or EKG. The patches on your chest are hooked up to a TV-type screen or a small portable box (telemetry unit). This screen shows a tracing of each heartbeat. Your heart will be watched for signs of injury or damage that could be related to your illness.
  • 12 Lead ECG: This test makes tracings from different parts of your heart. It can help your doctor decide whether there is a heart problem.
  • Blood: Usually taken from a vein in your hand or from the bend in your elbow. Tests will be done on the blood.
  • Blood Gases: Blood is taken from an artery in your wrist, elbow, or groin. It is tested for the amount of oxygen it contains.
  • IV: A tube placed in your vein for giving medicine or liquids. It will be capped or have tubing connected to it.

After You Leave

  • Try not to cough, sing, talk loudly, or laugh for several days. This causes increased pressure in your lungs and may result in another collapse during this healing period.
  • Rest until you feel better. You may then return to your normal activities.
  • If you have chest soreness, apply ice, a heating pad (set on low), or warm cloths to the sore area for 10 to 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. It's important to ease the pain so that you can breathe more easily.
  • Take medicines only as directed by your doctor. If you feel they are not helping, call your doctor.
  • If you are taking antibiotics, continue to take them until they are gone--even if you feel better.

If you are taking medicine that makes you drowsy, do not drive or use heavy equipment.

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