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Traumatic pneumothorax

Contents of this page:


Pneumothorax - chest X-ray
Pneumothorax - chest X-ray
Respiratory system
Respiratory system

Alternative Names    Return to top

Collapsed lung

Definition    Return to top

A traumatic pneumothorax is a collection of air inside the chest, between the lung and inner chest wall, which causes the lung to collapse.

See also: Pneumothorax

Causes    Return to top

Traumatic pneumothorax occurs when a physical injury causes the lung to collapse. It can be caused by chest injury from a gunshot or knife wounds. It may also be caused by automobile accidents, or can happen after certain medical procedures.

High-risk medical procedures include transbronchial biopsy, pleural biopsy, thoracentesis, central venous catheter placement, intercostal needle anesthesia, and esophagoscopy.

Hemothorax, a collection of blood between the lung and chest wall, often happens with traumatic pneumothorax.

Symptoms    Return to top

History of recent chest injury or high-risk procedure, plus:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Listening to the chest with a stethoscope may reveal decreased breath sounds on one side of the chest. There may be a bluish coloration of the skin caused by lack of oxygen. The affected person may have a rapid heart rate.


Treatment    Return to top

The goal of treatment is to remove the air from the pleural space, allowing the lung to re-expand. Small pneumothoraces may get better on their own.

Aspiration of air through a catheter to a vacuum bottle may re-expand the lung.

When aspiration is not successful or the pneumothorax is large, the placement of a chest tube between the ribs into the pleural space allows the air to be removed from the pleural space. Re-expansion of the lung may take several days with the chest tube left in place.

Hospitalization is required for chest tube management. Antibiotics may be given while the chest tube is in place.

Surgery may be needed to repair tears in the lungs or air passages.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

How well a patient does depends on how serious the injuries are. However, there are usually no long-term effects after successful treatment for a pneumothorax.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if symptoms come back after treatment of a traumatic pneumothorax.

Prevention    Return to top

Use safety measures such as seat belts to prevent injuries.

References    Return to top

Murray J, Nadel J. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2000. 

Marx J. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2002.

Update Date: 11/11/2008

Updated by: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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