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.

Aug. 04, 2017
  1. 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. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
  2. Ferri FF. Pneumothorax, spontaneous. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2016. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
  3. 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. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
  4. AskMayoExpert. Pneumothorax. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
  5. Light RW. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
  6. Light RW. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. Accessed Nov. 6, 2015.
  7. Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Collapsed lung (pneumothorax). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2009.