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 exam 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.
Collapsed lung: When to call
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 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 if:
- The skin around the place where the chest tube was put in is red or irritated.
- You do not get better as expected.