Collapsed lung is a term used to refer to pneumothorax, a potentially life-threatening condition. A pneumothorax happens when air enters the space between the rib cage and one of your lungs. The air causes part or all of the lung to collapse. It is then hard to breathe normally and your body gets less oxygen.
When a lung collapses without an injury, it is called a spontaneous pneumothorax.
A pneumothorax can suddenly occur for no clear reason in otherwise healthy young people, with or without strenuous activity.
Middle-aged and older adults whose lungs have been damaged by asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema may also have a spontaneous pneumothorax. It can happen when air leaks from a damaged lung or when, especially with forceful coughing, an air sac bursts and air flows between the lung and the chest wall. The chest fills with air, which presses on the lung, collapsing part or all of it. If the air has no way to escape, the buildup of trapped air increases pressure on the lung and can lead to a life-threatening problem called tension pneumothorax. A tension pneumothorax is life threatening because the air in the chest not only pushes on the lung, but it also pushes on the heart and keeps the heart from pumping normally.
The symptoms are:
If you have a tension pneumothorax, it is hard to breathe.
If your healthcare provider thinks you have a collapsed lung, diagnosis and treatment are usually done in an emergency room or hospital.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. You will have a chest X-ray. You may have a blood test to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. This is called an arterial blood gas test, or ABG.
Treatment depends on the cause, size, and duration of the pneumothorax. A small pneumothorax causing mild or no symptoms may heal by itself. The extra air in the chest will be absorbed through the surrounding tissues over the next few days.
If you have a pneumothorax that is causing more than mild symptoms, you need treatment right away to remove the air from the chest so the lung can fill with air again.
While you are being observed in the emergency room, your healthcare provider will keep checking your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. You will be given oxygen if you need it.
If you had a small pneumothorax with mild or no symptoms and requiring no treatment, usually you will be allowed to go home the same day. You will be asked to return one or more times for chest X-rays to make sure the pneumothorax is getting smaller and the air is being absorbed.
You may need to stay at the hospital for at least a day or two if air was removed from your chest with a needle and syringe or with a chest tube. You will need to be observed to make sure your lung is reexpanding and is no longer at risk of collapsing again. Depending on other medical conditions you have, you may need to stay at the hospital longer.
A small pneumothorax in a healthy adult may heal in a few days without treatment. Otherwise, recovery from a collapsed lung generally takes 1 or 2 weeks. You may have regular visits with your healthcare provider during this time.
You may be able to keep from having another collapsed lung by getting the necessary medical treatment for any respiratory problem, such as asthma or emphysema, as soon as you start having symptoms. Also, do not smoke.
If both lungs of your lungs collapsed, or the same lung has collapsed more than once, you may need surgery to keep it from happening again.