The goal in treating a pneumothorax is to relieve the pressure on your lung, allowing it to re-expand. Depending on the cause of the pneumothorax, a second goal may be to prevent recurrences. The methods for achieving these goals depend on the severity of the lung collapse and sometimes on your overall health.
If only a small portion of your lung is collapsed, your doctor may simply monitor your condition with a series of chest X-rays until the excess air is completely absorbed and your lung has re-expanded. Normally this takes a week or two. Supplemental oxygen may speed the absorption process.
Needle or chest tube insertion
If a larger area of your lung has collapsed, it's likely that a needle or chest tube will be used to remove the excess air.
The hollow needle or tube is inserted between the ribs into the air-filled space that is pressing on the collapsed lung. With the needle, a syringe is attached so that the doctor can pull out the excess air — just like a syringe is used to pull blood from a vein. A chest tube may be attached to a suction device that continuously removes air from the chest cavity.
If a chest tube doesn't solve your problem, surgery may be necessary to close the air leak. In most cases, the surgery can be performed through small incisions, using a tiny fiber-optic camera and narrow, long-handled surgical tools. The surgeon will look for the leaking bleb and close it off.
In some cases, a substance may be used to irritate the tissues around the lung so that they'll stick together and seal any leaks. Rarely, the surgeon will have to make a larger incision between the ribs to get better access to multiple or larger air leaks.
Jan. 28, 2016
- Mason RJ, et al. Pneumothorax, chylothorax, hemothorax, and fibrothorax. In: Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
- Ferri FF. Pneumothorax, spontaneous. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Spontaneous and iatrogenic pneumothorax. In: Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
- AskMayoExpert. Pneumothorax. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
- Light RW. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
- Light RW. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Collapsed lung (pneumothorax). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2009.