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Respir Care. 2013 Jul;58(7):e77-9. doi: 10.4187/respcare.02130. Epub 2012 Dec 4.

Pneumothorax caused by aggressive use of an incentive spirometer in a patient with emphysema.

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  • 1Pulmonary Section, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA, USA.


A 68-year-old man presented to the emergency department with a small pneumothorax following aggressive use of an incentive spirometer. The patient had a baseline chest radiograph consistent with emphysema. He was initially treated with oxygen in the emergency department, with resolution of his symptoms. The pneumothorax resolved spontaneously over a period of 3 days. The development of the pneumothorax was likely due to the patient's repeated forceful inspiratory maneuvers in the setting of emphysema and lung hyperinflation. Inspiratory resistive breathing can cause large negative swings in intrathoracic pressure, which may result in mechanical stress of lung tissue. This is the first report of a secondary pneumothorax associated with use of an incentive spirometer. Patients with bullous emphysema should be counseled to avoid frequent high intensity maneuvers with an incentive spirometer if the potential benefits of the procedure are marginal.


Müller maneuver; barotrauma; emphysema; incentive spirometry; pneumothorax; transpulmonary pressure

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