Treatment

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.

Observation

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.

Surgery

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.