Pneumothorax
(Collapsed Lung)

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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)

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 cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, asthma, and infections of the lungs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2012

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