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Pneumothorax

Abnormal presence of air in the pleural cavity.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Pneumothorax

Air or gas can build up in the pleural space. When this happens, it's called a pneumothorax (noo-mo-THOR-aks). A lung disease or acute lung injury can cause a pneumothorax.

Some lung procedures also can cause a pneumothorax. Examples include lung surgery, drainage of fluid with a needle, bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee), and mechanical ventilation.

Sometimes the cause of a pneumothorax isn't known.

The most common symptoms of a pneumothorax are sudden pain in one side of the lung and shortness of breath. The air or gas in the pleural space also can put pressure on the lung and cause it to collapse.

A small pneumothorax may go away without treatment. A large pneumothorax may require a procedure to remove air or gas from the pleural space.

A very large pneumothorax can interfere with blood flow through your chest and cause your blood pressure to drop. This is called a tension pneumothorax. NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Observation alone versus drain tube or needle insertion (interventional) for primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults without previous lung disease.

Review question: A primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) is a collection of air in the lining of the lung that occurs on its own or without a traumatic event. When this occurs, people can have chest pain and shortness of breath. Most of the time, the air in the lung is absorbed by the body and slowly decreases with time. Most of the guidelines in managing this condition recommend draining the air by sucking it out with a small needle, or placing a larger tube into the chest that drains the air over a period of time (both called 'interventional' management'). We aimed to examine the evidence for the recommendation.

The aspiration of pneumothorax in the newborn with a small needle compared to a larger tube placed through the intercostal space

Background: Pneumothorax is the presence of air in the pleural space (the space between the lung and the chest wall). It is a serious condition in the newborn and may be treated by needle aspiration or chest tube placement. The former is less invasive and might avoid the need for the insertion of a chest tube, thus reducing the duration of hospital stay. However the failure of needle aspiration might subsequently lead to the need for chest tube insertion, an additional invasive procedure. This systematic review evaluates the available evidence on the effectiveness of these two techniques in treating pneumothorax in neonates.

Simple aspiration versus intercostal tube drainage for primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults

Air that collects between the lung and the chest wall (the pleural space) is described as a pneumothorax. A pneumothorax may be caused by trauma or lung disease, but sometimes it happens spontaneously and has no obvious cause. When this happens, the lungs cannot expand properly, making it difficult to breathe effectively. The person can become breathless and may have chest pain. It is important to treat the pneumothorax by removing collected air and allowing healing of the pleura ‐ a thin membrane that covers the lungs and acts as a lining for them within the chest. For initial management when medical intervention is needed, air can be removed by drawing it out through a thin tube (simple aspiration), or by inserting a much larger chest tube into the space between the ribs (intercostal tube drainage).

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Summaries for consumers

Observation alone versus drain tube or needle insertion (interventional) for primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults without previous lung disease.

Review question: A primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) is a collection of air in the lining of the lung that occurs on its own or without a traumatic event. When this occurs, people can have chest pain and shortness of breath. Most of the time, the air in the lung is absorbed by the body and slowly decreases with time. Most of the guidelines in managing this condition recommend draining the air by sucking it out with a small needle, or placing a larger tube into the chest that drains the air over a period of time (both called 'interventional' management'). We aimed to examine the evidence for the recommendation.

The aspiration of pneumothorax in the newborn with a small needle compared to a larger tube placed through the intercostal space

Background: Pneumothorax is the presence of air in the pleural space (the space between the lung and the chest wall). It is a serious condition in the newborn and may be treated by needle aspiration or chest tube placement. The former is less invasive and might avoid the need for the insertion of a chest tube, thus reducing the duration of hospital stay. However the failure of needle aspiration might subsequently lead to the need for chest tube insertion, an additional invasive procedure. This systematic review evaluates the available evidence on the effectiveness of these two techniques in treating pneumothorax in neonates.

Simple aspiration versus intercostal tube drainage for primary spontaneous pneumothorax in adults

Air that collects between the lung and the chest wall (the pleural space) is described as a pneumothorax. A pneumothorax may be caused by trauma or lung disease, but sometimes it happens spontaneously and has no obvious cause. When this happens, the lungs cannot expand properly, making it difficult to breathe effectively. The person can become breathless and may have chest pain. It is important to treat the pneumothorax by removing collected air and allowing healing of the pleura ‐ a thin membrane that covers the lungs and acts as a lining for them within the chest. For initial management when medical intervention is needed, air can be removed by drawing it out through a thin tube (simple aspiration), or by inserting a much larger chest tube into the space between the ribs (intercostal tube drainage).

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Terms to know

Bronchoscopy
A procedure that uses a bronchoscope to examine the inside of the trachea, bronchi (air passages that lead to the lungs), and lungs. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing.
Cavity
A hollow area or hole. It may describe a body cavity (such as the space within the abdomen) or a hole in a tooth caused by decay.
Lungs
One of a pair of organs in the chest that supplies the body with oxygen, and removes carbon dioxide from the body.
Pleura
A thin layer of tissue that covers the lungs and lines the interior wall of the chest cavity. It protects and cushions the lungs. This tissue secretes a small amount of fluid that acts as a lubricant, allowing the lungs to move smoothly in the chest cavity while breathing.
Thorax
Having to do with the chest.

More about Pneumothorax

Photo of an adult

See Also: Pleurisy, Hemothorax, Pleural Effusion

Other terms to know: See all 5
Bronchoscopy, Cavity, Lungs

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