What is a Collapsed Lung?

Think of what it would be like to inflate a balloon while deep under water. That’s what it’s like when someone ties to breathe when air or fluid has built up in in the space between the lungs and the chest wall (called the pleural cavity). As pressure builds up in this space, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to expand. Eventually, the pressure compresses the lung, either preventing it from fully inflating or collapsing it completely. End result: patients struggle to take a full breath.
A Patient’s Perspective
Learn what one patient has to say about the Lourdes Cardiovascular Institute.

  • An injury, disease or infection can allow air to enter the space between the chest wall and the lungs.
  • As air builds up, it presses against one or both lungs.
  • The increased pressure causes the lung to collapse (called pneumothorax).

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Bluish skin color

  • Supplemental oxygen can help patients to breathe while their lungs start to heal.
  • Syringes and tubes can be used to drain the air, allowing the lungs to reinflate.
  • Minimally-invasive techniques allow surgeons to repair lungs without separating the breast bone or making large incisions.

How We Can Help

If a patient’s condition is mild, the lung may reinflate once the underlying infection resolves. Supplemental oxygen, bed rest, and close observation are all some patients need for their lung to heal. If the problem is more serious, our specialists might recommend:

  • Needle aspiration: A fine needle is inserted into between the ribs and into the chest cavity to withdraw the air.
  • Chest tube drainage: A small tube is inserted into the chest cavity and used to pump out the air.
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS): A tiny camera called a thorascope is inserted between the ribs and into the chest. The camera displays images of the inside of the body, allowing a surgeon to repair the lung without making large incisions.
  • Chemical and mechanical pleurodesis: A surgeon may apply a substance or gauze to the outside of the lung to prevent it from collapsing in the future.

Related Information

Surgery for Collapsed Lung