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Pneumothorax: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About pneumothorax

Pneumothorax is a lung disorder characterized by the collection of air in the pleural space around the lungs. Normally the lungs are surrounded by 2 layers of covering called pleural membranes and space between these membranes is known as pleural cavity. Presence of air in this pleural cavity is known as pneumothorax which leads to the collapse of lung on the affected side. The lung is said to have collapsed when it gets compressed by the surrounding air and becomes unable to expand during inspiration(breathing in).

Pneumothorax: Incidence, age and sex

Pneumothorax is mainly observed in the adult population; however it may occur rarely in children with underlying lung disease. The incidence of pneumothorax is more in men as compared to women.

Signs and symptoms of pneumothorax: Diagnosis

The clinical features of pneumothorax depend upon the severity of the condition. Individuals with smaller incidence pneumothorax may not manifest any signs or symptoms, whereas a large pneumothorax may result in the shortness of breath, dry cough, and fatigue. The affected individual may also experience a sharp pain in chest which aggravates during breathing.

The respiratory physician on examination, may detect low blood pressure, rapid heart rate and no breath sounds. Other tests like chest x-ray (showing air pocket and collapsed lung) and arterial blood gases (ABG) may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of pneumothorax

There are various causes which can lead to pneumothorax and these include trauma to the chest in the form of knife injury, gunshot wound, fracture of the rib, or medical procedures (thoracocentesis). It may also result from extreme pressure changes in lungs as in scuba diving and flying. Sometimes lung diseases like tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis or lung abscess may also predispose to this lung condition. Pneumothorax can be of different kinds namely ‘open pneumothorax’ wherein the air rushes into pleural space as a result of penetrating chest wound; ‘closed pneumothorax’ wherein the air leaks into the pleural space from a punctured airway; ‘spontaneous pneumothorax’ which occurs in individuals without any lung disorder or chest trauma, due to rupture of a bleb (small air filled pocket) in lung.

There is no specific preventive measure for pneumothorax. However, smoking cessation is advisable since it is a risk factor for development of pneumothorax.

Pneumothorax: Complications

Pneumothorax, if large, may lead to cyanosis, which is bluish discolouration of the skin due to reduced oxygen supply. Moreover, the affected individual may land in shock if pneumothorax is significantly large and not treated promptly. Pneumothorax has a high tendency to recur in susceptible individuals.

Pneumothorax: Treatment

The treatment of pneumothorax depends upon its type and severity. Small pneumothorax requires watchful waiting with supportive treatment like oxygen and adequate rest. However if pneumothorax is large and symptoms are significant, then suction drainage of air from chest wall is done by a needle or chest tube. Very rarely surgical intervention may be needed to seal the lung and prevent air leakage. Individuals with pneumothorax are effectively treated; however relapses are common especially in predisposed individuals.