Mostly, atelectasis (collapsed lung) improves without any treatment.
Atelectasis occurs when parts of the lung tissue do not fill up with air. It may involve small parts of the lung or a larger surface depending on the cause.
Mostly, atelectasis (collapsed lung) improves without any treatment. Your doctor will monitor you carefully and suggest rest or certain procedures until the lung reinflated. In more severe cases, depending on the cause and degree of the lung collapse, the following treatment will be suggested.
- Deep breathing or coughing exercises: The nurses or respiratory therapists may guide you with some breathing exercises while sitting or standing in the upright position as soon as possible after surgery. This is called chest physiotherapy.
- Intermittent positive pressure breathing: In this technique, short-term mechanical ventilation (breathing through a machine) is delivered via a mouthpiece to expand the lungs and deliver aerosol medication. Airway pressure is applied to the patient’s airway through a tube inserted through the nose, mouth, or opening created on the neck. The positive nature of the pressure causes the gas to flow into your lungs until the ventilator (breathing machine) breathing is terminated.
- Chest physical therapy: Chest percussion and postural drainage are manual therapies conducted by trained professionals. In this therapy, gravity and percussion (clapping on the chest and/or back) are used to loosen the thick, sticky mucus in the lungs.
- Medications: A nebulizer treatment with Proventil (bronchodilator), inhaled medicines, or sodium bicarbonate may be used to assist you in clearing the secretions. Also, antibiotics may be prescribed by a doctor to clear any infection.
- Relieve chest pressure: Doctors may remove the source of the pressure surgically and with medications.
- Surgery: The doctor may advise bronchoscopy. In this procedure, a flexible scope will be inserted into your airway passage to view it. Usually, doctors may remove the blockage so that you can breathe freely again during a bronchoscopy.
- Lung condition treatments: Your doctor may treat the lung condition with medicine or a procedure to relieve pressure on your lung.
Usually, atelectasis gets better with time or treatment. However, to prevent atelectasis during and after surgery, your doctor may suggest you
- To stop smoking
- Breathing exercises
- A breathing device, such as a continuous positive airway pressure machine
What is atelectasis?
There is a pair of lungs in the chest. When air is breathed in, the lungs fill up with air. This air travels to the air sacs (alveoli). From here (alveoli), oxygen moves into the blood and then to the other body tissues.
Atelectasis means a complete or partial collapse of the entire lung or part of the lung. In this condition, alveoli cannot inflate properly. So, the blood is unable to circulate properly. This leads to inadequate delivery of oxygen to organs and tissues, causing complications.
What are the causes of atelectasis?
Your lungs can collapse due to many reasons at any age.
You may be at higher risk of atelectasis if you have the following conditions or habits.
- Recent surgery under general anesthesia (It is not typically life-threatening, but in some cases, it needs to be treated quickly.)
- Exposure to certain substances, e.g., asbestos
- Other conditions
- Sleep apnea (breathing trouble during sleep)
- Lung disorders
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe)
- Cystic fibrosis (severe damage to the lungs and digestive system)
- Pneumothorax (presence of air between the lungs)
- Pleural effusion (water on the lungs)
- Respiratory distress syndrome (breathing disorder in newborns caused by immature lung)
- Lung injuries
- Lung cancer
- Airway blockage due to
- Excess mucus
- Piece of food
- Inhaled objects
- Compression in the chest due to
- Other growth
- Deformed bone
- Tight brace
- Body cast
What are the symptoms of atelectasis?
If the small section (lobe) of your lung has been affected, then you may not have any symptoms. However, if large sections have been affected you may experience more uncomfortable symptoms, which includes
- Breathing difficulty
- Low-grade fever
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain
- Bluish discoloration of skin and lips
Your doctor may suggest a chest X-ray, bronchoscopy, or imaging test if you have the above symptoms.
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Medically Reviewed on 5/3/2021
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Atelectasis. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atelectasis
Cleveland Clinic. Atelectasis. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17699-atelectasis
O’Donohue WJ Jr. Prevention and Treatment of Postoperative Atelectasis: Can It and Will It Be Adequately Studied? Chest. 1985; 87(1): 1-2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012369215448226