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Pneumothorax

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
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Pneumothorax, also referred to as lung collapse, is the result of unwanted air trapped around the lungs. The lung collapses as it cannot expand in the normal fashion, due to presence of unwanted air/gas. This condition can be categorized into three types, namely, spontaneous, tension, and trauma pneumothorax.

Causes of Pneumothorax
Numerous reasons can cause collection of air/gas around the lungs. The air trapped can be air from outside the body or from the lung itself.

  1. Spontaneous: This has sudden symptoms and is not a result of sustained injury to lungs. It has two types - primary and secondary. The former is observed in people who do not have any medical history of any lung disease. Smoking is considered as its chief cause. Proximity to loud sound, scuba diving, sudden change in atmospheric pressure, etc., can be some other contributing factors. The latter is observed in people who already suffer from a lung disorder, such as COPD, asthma, etc. COPD has been observed to be the most common reason.
  2. Trauma: Any injury to the lungs or the chest wall causes this condition. It can be a result of gunshot, accident, or any direct injury to the lung. Medical surgeries, like open lung biopsy or any other lung surgery may also be a reason.
  3. Tension: This leads to complete lung collapse, i.e., both the lungs can collapse. The air trapped outside the lung is unable to escape, and hence, the amount of the air collected goes on increasing with every breath. This is a rare condition that builds extreme pressure in the chest and may cause shock, low blood pressure, and if it gets more severe and is not treated soon, it may cause death.


Symptoms

The symptoms depend on the amount of air trapped outside the lung. The following list gives the common symptoms:

  • Severe chest pain that gives a feeling of getting stabbed.
  • Patient may feel breathless or face shortness of breath.
  • Skin colour becomes bluish, due to lack of oxygen.
  • Low blood pressure
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Cough
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis of Pneumothorax
A stethoscope is used for physical examination of the patient. The breathing pattern is examined and usually the stethoscope alone proves useful to confirm the diagnosis. Chest X-rays are used sometimes to confirm the diagnosis, to reveal the amount of air trapped. Arterial blood gas test may also be performed, as it helps in assessing the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.


Treatment

Generally, primary spontaneous pneumothorax cures on its own, if the amount of air trapped is very less. In such cases, X-rays can prove to be helpful to cross check if the air has escaped. Treatments are aimed at removing the unwanted air. When the air trapped is large in amount and it causes serious breathing problems, then the removal of air becomes mandatory. Chest tube treatments are widely used to remove the excess air/gas. The patient needs to be hospitalized, when the chest tube is inserted. The chest tube helps the air to flow out. If a person is frequently suffering from this problem, surgery can help to prevent further complications. Tension pneumothorax is fatal and may cause death within few minutes if not treated on time. Pneumothorax due to injury to the lung should be treated immediately. In most cases, the trapped air can be removed easily but, there are also 50% chances of the air getting trapped in the future.

People having medical history of lung diseases should take proper care and consult a physician for prevention. Spontaneous pneumothorax can be prevented by avoiding smoking. Proper treatment and prevention can help reduce severe symptoms of the disease.