Also known as: collapsed lung.

What is pneumothorax?

The pleura are two membranes, (with minimal space between them - the pleura cavity, containing a small amount of lubricating fluid), that lie between the lung and the chest wall. A pneumothorax is air in the pleural cavity. Air leaks into the pleural space can occur suddenly or gradually and may be simple (without buildup of significant pressure but with some stable collapse of the lung) or complicated (from air continuing to leak into the pleural space causing increasing lung collapse -called a tension pneumothorax, with further chest problems).


What causes pneumothorax? 

Pneumothorax can occur for several reasons. In babies it’s most commonly due to the air sacs (alveoli) becoming over distended and bursting because of pressure from breathing machines (mechanical ventilators), inhalation of meconium stool passed before birth, or associated with other lung diseases like respiratory distress syndrome (RDS).

In older children it can occur without cause (spontaneous pneumothorax- associated with being tall and thin, connective tissue disorders, smoking, scuba diving and flying), with acute or chronic lung diseases, blunt/penetrating injury to the chest, during mechanical ventilation, or during the placement of diagnostic or therapeutic catheters (inhalation of crack cocaine has been associated with a pneumothorax).


What are the symptoms of pneumothorax? 

Depending on a number of different factors, symptoms of pneumothorax may be none to minimal, or in baby’s cause irritability, restlessness, grunting, nostril flaring, and rapid and difficulty breathing with pale/blue tinged skin/tongue or mouth. Older children may complain of a sharp chest pain made worse on taking a deep breath, shortness of breath, and chest tightness with a fast heart rate and bluish color to skin/mouth/tongue. These can become quite severe and life-threatening in some instances.


What are pneumothorax care options? 

Treatments depend of the size of the pneumothorax, its duration and severity of symptoms. In less severe instances, only oxygen for a short while may be required; with more severe symptoms a needle or chest tube will be inserted in order to remove the air from the pleural space enabling the collapsed lung to re-expand. If persistent, surgery may be required.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 3/23/2018 2:17:22 PM

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