Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Treatment of atelectasis depends on the cause. Atelectasis of a small area of your lung may subside without treatment. If there's an underlying condition, such as a tumor, treatment may involve removal or shrinkage of the tumor with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

Chest physiotherapy

Techniques that help people breathe deeply after surgery to re-expand collapsed lung tissue are very important. These techniques are best learned before surgery. They include:

  • Coughing.
  • Clapping (percussion) on your chest over the collapsed area to loosen mucus. You can also use mechanical mucus-clearance devices such as an air-pulse vibrator vest or a hand-held instrument.
  • Performing deep-breathing exercises (incentive spirometry).
  • Positioning your body so that your head is lower than your chest (called postural drainage). This allows mucus to drain better from the bottom of your lungs.

Supplemental oxygen can help relieve shortness of breath.


In some cases, medications may be used. They include:

  • Inhaled bronchodilators (Foradil, Serevent, others), which open the bronchial tubes of the lungs, making breathing easier.
  • Acetylcysteine (Acetadote) may help thin mucus and make it easier to cough up.
  • Dornase Alfa (Pulmozyme) is used to clear mucus plugs in children with cystic fibrosis. Its role in treatment of atelectasis for people without cystic fibrosis is not fully defined.

Surgical or other procedures

Your doctor may suggest removal of airway obstructions, which may be done by suctioning mucus or by bronchoscopy. Bronchoscopy uses a flexible tube threaded down your throat to clear your airways.

Use of continuous positive pressure may be helpful in some people with low oxygen levels (hypoxemia) after surgery.

July 14, 2012

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