Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)

  • Medical Author:
    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Understanding COPD

Pneumothorax facts

  • A pneumothorax is a collection of free air in the chest cavity (thoracic cavity) that causes the lung to collapse.
  • Pneumothorax may occur on its own in the absence of underlying disease; this is termed spontaneous pneumothorax.
  • Pneumothorax may also occur as a consequence of an injury or underlying lung disease.
  • A small spontaneous pneumothorax may resolve without treatment; a pneumothorax arising as a result of lung disease or injury requires immediate treatment.
  • Treatment may include insertion of a chest tube or aspiration of the free air in the chest cavity.

What is a pneumothorax?

A pneumothorax is a collection of free air in the chest outside the lung that causes the lung to collapse.

What are the types of pneumothorax?

A spontaneous pneumothorax, also referred to as a primary pneumothorax, occurs in the absence of a traumatic injury to the chest or a known lung disease. A secondary (also termed complicated) pneumothorax occurs as a result of an underlying condition.

Picture of Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)
Picture of Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)

What causes a pneumothorax?

The lungs normally inflate by increasing the size of the chest cavity, resulting in a negative (vacuum) pressure in the pleural space (the area within the chest cavity but outside the lungs). If air enters the pleural space either by a hole in the lung or the chest wall, the pressure in the pleural space equals the pressure outside the body. Thus, the vacuum is lost and the lung collapses.

Spontaneous pneumothorax is caused by a rupture of a cyst or a small sac (bleb) on the surface of the lung. Pneumothorax may also occur following an injury to the chest wall such as a fractured rib, any penetrating injury (gun shot or stabbing), surgical invasion of the chest, or may be deliberately induced in order to collapse the lung. A pneumothorax can also develop as a result of underlying lung diseases, including

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016

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