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A collapsed lung is a serious medical condition in which one or both of the organs responsible for respiration are punctured in a way that allows air to build up in the chest cavity. This build-up of air can eventually create pressure within the chest that keeps the lung from properly inflating. Doctors use several methods to treat a collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, depending on the severity of the condition. While a minor pneumothorax may heal on its own, more severe collapses can require invasive techniques to remove air from the chest cavity and surgery to fix the hole in the lung. Patients who have had a collapsed lung are at an increased risk for another pneumothorax in the future.
In the case of a collapsed lung, doctors will perform several tests to evaluate the patient's condition. These tests typically include a chest X-ray to help determine the extent of the damage to the lungs and an arterial blood gas screen that will show how much oxygen is being absorbed into the blood stream. Other tests and imaging techniques may be used for more serious cases. Patients who have suffered severe chest trauma in an assault or accident may need immediate surgery and assisted respiration to help stabilize their condition.
Patients with a minor, spontaneous collapsed lung often can recover without invasive treatments. They will be advised to rest and return to the hospital if their condition worsens. Some patients may receive oxygen and stay overnight in the hospital for observation. A minor pneumothorax also can be treated with aspiration, which involves inserting a needle into the chest for a short time to help remove air.
A severe pneumothorax generally will require the insertion of a chest tube. This is designed to help air drain from the chest cavity and relieve pressure around the lungs. The chest tube may be in place for several days and patients typically will receive a course of antibiotics to prevent an infection from developing at the insertion point. Patients also may receive additional oxygen to help ensure that enough is being absorbed into their blood stream.
Some collapsed lung patients may need surgery to repair damage to the area of the lung from which the air is escaping. Surgery also may be performed to help prevent a future pneumothorax from occurring. Several surgical options are available, ranging from opening the chest cavity to a less invasive thoracoscopy. In some cases, chemical agents may be inserted to help seal the lung tissue.