Lungs and Respiratory System

What is the Pneumothorax? Causes and Symptoms

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:56 am

Pneumothorax is the medical term for a collapsed lung. Pneumothorax occurs when air enters the space around your lungs (the pleural space). Air can find its way into the pleural space when there’s an open injury in your chest wall or a tear or rupture in your lung tissue, disrupting the pressure that keeps your lungs inflated.

What Causes the Pneumothorax?

Causes of ruptured or injured chest or lung walls can include lung disease, injury from a sport or accident, assisted breathing with a ventilator, or even changes in air pressure that you experience when scuba diving or mountain climbing. Sometimes the cause of a pneumothorax is unknown.

The change in pressure caused by an opening in your chest or lung wall can cause the lung to collapse and put pressure on the heart. The condition ranges in severity. If there’s only a small amount of air trapped in the pleural space, as can be the case in a spontaneous pneumothorax, it can often heal on its own if there have been no further complications. More serious cases that involve larger volumes of air can become fatal if left untreated.

The Pneumothorax Causes

A pneumothorax can be caused by:

  1. Chest injury. Any blunt or penetrating injury to your chest can cause lung collapse. Some injuries may happen during physical assaults or car crashes, while others may inadvertently occur during medical procedures that involve the insertion of a needle into the chest.
  2. Lung disease. Damaged lung tissue is more likely to collapse. Lung damage can be caused by many types of underlying diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, lung cancer or pneumonia. Cystic lung diseases, such as lymphangioleiomyomatosis and Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, cause round, thin-walled air sacs in the lung tissue that can rupture, resulting in pneumothorax.
  3. Ruptured air blisters. Small air blisters (blebs) can develop on the top of the lungs. These air blisters sometimes burst allowing air to leak into the space that surrounds the lungs.
  4. Mechanical ventilation. A severe type of pneumothorax can occur in people who need mechanical assistance to breathe. The ventilator can create an imbalance of air pressure within the chest. The lung may collapse completely.

The Symptoms of Pneumothorax

The symptoms of a traumatic pneumothorax often appear at the time of chest trauma or injury, or shortly afterward. The onset of symptoms for a spontaneous pneumothorax normally occurs at rest. A sudden attack of chest pain is often the first symptom. Other symptoms may include:

  • a steady ache in the chest
  • shortness of breath, or dyspnea
  • breaking out in a cold sweat
  • tightness in the chest
  • turning blue, or cyanosis
  • severe tachycardia, or a fast heart rate

If the collapse is large enough it can put pressure on the heart, leading to high blood pressure or a heart attack. If you suffer a Pneumothorax once, your chances of it happening again are very high. If you have two of these, you are almost certain to get a third until you have surgery to attach the lung to the chest wall, making collapses less likely.

The Two Types of Pneumothorax

The two types of pneumothorax are traumatic pneumothorax and nontraumatic pneumothorax. Either type can lead to a tension pneumothorax if the air surrounding the lung increases the pressure. A tension pneumothorax is common in cases of trauma and required emergency medical treatment.

Primary spontaneous pneumothorax will occur without any exact cause. It typically happens when there is a rupture of a small air sac on the outside of the lung. This causes air to leak into the cavity around the lung.

Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax happens when a collapsed lung is caused by pre-existing lung disease such as lung cancer, asthma or COPD.

What is the Difference Between Pneumothorax and Atelectasis?

Pneumothorax occurs when air enters the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall, and depending on the amount of air, the lung will be compressed and potentially collapse completely. Atelectasis is the collapse of the small alveoli in the bases of the lung, this is caused by under inflation, mucous or fluid collection the limit air flow into the alveoli.

Conclusion

Pneumothorax ,commonly called a collapsed lung, occurs when air gets into the space between the chest wall and the lung space called pleural space. The pressure of this air causes the lung to collapse on itself. The lung may fully collapse , but most often collapse only a part of it collapses. This collapse can also put pressure on the heart, causing further symptoms. The amount of filled in the lung space will decide the severity of the condition.

Small amount of air filled Pneumothoraxces heal without treatment, on its own if there have been no further complications . More serious cases that involve larger volumes of air can become fatal if left untreated.

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