A pneumothorax is an abnormal collection of air in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall.[3] Symptoms typically include sudden onset of sharp, one-sided chest pain and shortness of breath.[2] In a minority of cases the amount of air in the chest increases when a one-way valve is formed by an area of damaged tissue, leading to a tension pneumothorax.[3] This condition can cause a steadily worsening oxygen shortage and low blood pressure.[3] Unless reversed by effective treatment, it can result in death.[3] Very rarely both lungs may be affected by a pneumothorax.[6] It is often called a collapsed lung, although that term may also refer to atelectasis.[1]

A primary pneumothorax is one that occurs without an apparent cause and in the absence of significant lung disease, while a secondary pneumothorax occurs in the presence of existing lung disease.[3] Smoking increases the risk as do lung diseases including COPD, asthma, and tuberculosis.[3][4] A pneumothorax can also be caused by physical trauma to the chest (including a blast injury) or as a complication of a healthcare intervention, in which case it is called a traumatic pneumothorax.[7][8]

Diagnosis of a pneumothorax by physical examination alone can be difficult (particularly in smaller pneumothoraces).[9] A chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or ultrasound is usually used to confirm its presence.[5] Other conditions that can result in similar symptoms include a hemothorax (buildup of blood in the pleural space), pulmonary embolism, and heart attack.[2][10] A large bulla may look similar on a chest X-ray.[3]

A small spontaneous pneumothorax will typically resolve without treatment and requires only monitoring.[3] This approach may be most appropriate in people who have no underlying lung disease.[3] In a larger pneumothorax, or if there is shortness of breath, the air may be removed with a syringe or a chest tube connected to a one-way valve system.[3] Occasionally, surgery may be required if tube drainage is unsuccessful, or as a preventive measure, if there have been repeated episodes.[3] The surgical treatments usually involve pleurodesis (in which the layers of pleura are induced to stick together) or pleurectomy (the surgical removal of pleural membranes).[3] About 17–23 cases of pneumothorax occur per 100,000 people per year.[3][5] They are more common in men than women.[3]

SynonymsCollapsed lung[1]
Chest X-ray showing a pneumothorax on the right (left in the image), where the absence of lung markings indicates that there is free air inside the chest
A large right-sided spontaneous pneumothorax (left in the image). An arrow indicates the edge of the collapsed lung
SpecialtyPulmonology, thoracic surgery
SymptomsChest pain, shortness of breath, tiredness[2]
Usual onsetSudden[3]
CausesUnknown, trauma[3]
Risk factorsCOPD, tuberculosis, smoking[4]
Diagnostic methodChest X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan[5]
Differential diagnosislung bullae,[3] hemothorax[2]
PreventionStopping smoking[3]
Treatmentconservative, needle aspiration, chest tube, pleurodesis[3]
Frequency20 per 100,000 per year[3][5]

Signs and symptoms

Blausen 0742 Pneumothorax
Illustration depicting a collapsed lung or pneumothorax

A primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) tends to occur in a young adult without underlying lung problems, and usually causes limited symptoms. Chest pain and sometimes mild breathlessness are the usual predominant presenting features.[11][12] People who are affected by PSPs are often unaware of potential danger and may wait several days before seeking medical attention.[13] PSPs more commonly occur during changes in atmospheric pressure, explaining to some extent why episodes of pneumothorax may happen in clusters.[12] It is rare for PSPs to cause tension pneumothoraces.[11]

Secondary spontaneous pneumothoraces (SSPs), by definition, occur in individuals with significant underlying lung disease. Symptoms in SSPs tend to be more severe than in PSPs, as the unaffected lungs are generally unable to replace the loss of function in the affected lungs. Hypoxemia (decreased blood-oxygen levels) is usually present and may be observed as cyanosis (blue discoloration of the lips and skin). Hypercapnia (accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood) is sometimes encountered; this may cause confusion and – if very severe – may result in comas. The sudden onset of breathlessness in someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or other serious lung diseases should therefore prompt investigations to identify the possibility of a pneumothorax.[11][13]

Traumatic pneumothorax most commonly occurs when the chest wall is pierced, such as when a stab wound or gunshot wound allows air to enter the pleural space, or because some other mechanical injury to the lung compromises the integrity of the involved structures. Traumatic pneumothoraces have been found to occur in up to half of all cases of chest trauma, with only rib fractures being more common in this group. The pneumothorax can be occult (not readily apparent) in half of these cases, but may enlarge – particularly if mechanical ventilation is required.[12] They are also encountered in patients already receiving mechanical ventilation for some other reason.[12]

Upon physical examination, breath sounds (heard with a stethoscope) may be diminished on the affected side, partly because air in the pleural space dampens the transmission of sound. Measures of the conduction of vocal vibrations to the surface of the chest may be altered. Percussion of the chest may be perceived as hyper-resonant (like a booming drum), and vocal resonance and tactile fremitus can both be noticeably decreased. Importantly, the volume of the pneumothorax may not be well correlated with the intensity of the symptoms experienced by the victim,[13] and physical signs may not be apparent if the pneumothorax is relatively small.[12][13]

Tension pneumothorax

Although multiple definitions exist, a tension pneumothorax is generally considered to be present when a pneumothorax (primary spontaneous, secondary spontaneous, or traumatic) leads to significant impairment of respiration and/or blood circulation.[14] Tension pneumothorax tends to occur in clinical situations such as ventilation, resuscitation, trauma, or in patients with lung disease.[13]

The most common findings in people with tension pneumothorax are chest pain and respiratory distress, often with an increased heart rate (tachycardia) and rapid breathing (tachypnea) in the initial stages. Other findings may include quieter breath sounds on one side of the chest, low oxygen levels and blood pressure, and displacement of the trachea away from the affected side. Rarely, there may be cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin due to low oxygen levels), altered level of consciousness, a hyperresonant percussion note on examination of the affected side with reduced expansion and decreased movement, pain in the epigastrium (upper abdomen), displacement of the apex beat (heart impulse), and resonant sound when tapping the sternum.[14] This is a medical emergency and may require immediate treatment without further investigations (see below).[13][14]

Tension pneumothorax may also occur in someone who is receiving mechanical ventilation, in which case it may be difficult to spot as the person is typically receiving sedation; it is often noted because of a sudden deterioration in condition.[14] Recent studies have shown that the development of tension features may not always be as rapid as previously thought. Deviation of the trachea to one side and the presence of raised jugular venous pressure (distended neck veins) are not reliable as clinical signs.[14]


Pneumot rax bullae
A schematic drawing of a bulla and a bleb, two lung abnormalities that may rupture and lead to pneumothorax.

Primary spontaneous

Spontaneous pneumothoraces are divided into two types: primary, which occurs in the absence of known lung disease, and secondary, which occurs in someone with underlying lung disease.[15] The cause of primary spontaneous pneumothorax is unknown, but established risk factors include male sex, smoking, and a family history of pneumothorax.[16] Smoking either cannabis or tobacco increases the risk.[3] The various suspected underlying mechanisms are discussed below.[11][12]

Secondary spontaneous

Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax occurs in the setting of a variety of lung diseases. The most common is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which accounts for approximately 70% of cases.[16] Known lung diseases that may significantly increase the risk for pneumothorax are

Type Causes
Diseases of the airways[11] COPD (especially when emphysema and lung bullae are present), acute severe asthma, cystic fibrosis
Infections of the lung[11] Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), tuberculosis, necrotizing pneumonia
Interstitial lung disease[11] Sarcoidosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, histiocytosis X, lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM)
Connective tissue diseases[11] Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, polymyositis and dermatomyositis, systemic sclerosis, Marfan's syndrome and Ehlers–Danlos syndrome
Cancer[11] Lung cancer, sarcomas involving the lung
Miscellaneous[12] Catamenial pneumothorax (associated with the menstrual cycle and related to endometriosis in the chest)

In children, additional causes include measles, echinococcosis, inhalation of a foreign body, and certain congenital malformations (congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation and congenital lobar emphysema).[17]

11.5% of people with a spontaneous pneumothorax have a family member who has previously experienced a pneumothorax. The hereditary conditions – Marfan syndrome, homocystinuria, Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (which leads to emphysema), and Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome – have all been linked to familial pneumothorax.[18] Generally, these conditions cause other signs and symptoms as well, and pneumothorax is not usually the primary finding.[18] Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome is caused by mutations in the FLCN gene (located at chromosome 17p11.2), which encodes a protein named folliculin.[17][18] FLCN mutations and lung lesions have also been identified in familial cases of pneumothorax where other features of Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome are absent.[17] In addition to the genetic associations, the HLA haplotype A2B40 is also a genetic predisposition to PSP.[19][20]


A traumatic pneumothorax may result from either blunt trauma or penetrating injury to the chest wall.[12] The most common mechanism is due to the penetration of sharp bony points at a new rib fracture, which damages lung tissue.[16] Traumatic pneumothorax may also be observed in those exposed to blasts, even though there is no apparent injury to the chest.[8]

They may be classified as "open" or "closed". In an open pneumothorax there is a passage from the external environment into the pleural space through the chest wall. When air is drawn into the pleural space through this passageway it is known as a sucking chest wound. A closed pneumothorax is when the chest wall remains intact.[21]

Medical procedures, such as the insertion of a central venous catheter into one of the chest veins or the taking of biopsy samples from lung tissue, may lead to pneumothorax. The administration of positive pressure ventilation, either mechanical ventilation or non-invasive ventilation, can result in barotrauma (pressure-related injury) leading to a pneumothorax.[12]

Divers who breathe from an underwater apparatus are supplied with breathing gas at ambient pressure, which results in their lungs containing gas at higher than atmospheric pressure. Divers breathing compressed air (such as when scuba diving) may suffer a pneumothorax as a result of barotrauma from ascending just 1 metre (3 ft) while breath-holding with their lungs fully inflated.[22] An additional problem in these cases is that those with other features of decompression sickness are typically treated in a diving chamber with hyperbaric therapy; this can lead to a small pneumothorax rapidly enlarging and causing features of tension.[22]


Pneumothorax CT
CT scan of the chest showing a pneumothorax on the person's left side (right side on the image). A chest tube is in place (small black mark on the right side of the image), the air-filled pleural cavity (black) and ribs (white) can be seen. The heart can be seen in the center.

The thoracic cavity is the space inside the chest that contains the lungs, heart, and numerous major blood vessels. On each side of the cavity, a pleural membrane covers the surface of lung (visceral pleura) and also lines the inside of the chest wall (parietal pleura). Normally, the two layers are separated by a small amount of lubricating serous fluid. The lungs are fully inflated within the cavity because the pressure inside the airways is higher than the pressure inside the pleural space. Despite the low pressure in the pleural space, air does not enter it because there are no natural connections to an air-containing passage, and the pressure of gases in the bloodstream is too low for them to be forced into the pleural space.[12] Therefore, a pneumothorax can only develop if air is allowed to enter, through damage to the chest wall or damage to the lung itself, or occasionally because microorganisms in the pleural space produce gas.[12]

Chest-wall defects are usually evident in cases of injury to the chest wall, such as stab or bullet wounds ("open pneumothorax"). In secondary spontaneous pneumothoraces, vulnerabilities in the lung tissue are caused by a variety of disease processes, particularly by rupturing of bullae (large air-containing lesions) in cases of severe emphysema. Areas of necrosis (tissue death) may precipitate episodes of pneumothorax, although the exact mechanism is unclear.[11] Primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) has for many years been thought to be caused by "blebs" (small air-filled lesions just under the pleural surface), which were presumed to be more common in those classically at risk of pneumothorax (tall males) due to mechanical factors. In PSP, blebs can be found in 77% of cases, compared to 6% in the general population without a history of PSP.[23] As these healthy subjects do not all develop a pneumothorax later, the hypothesis may not be sufficient to explain all episodes; furthermore, pneumothorax may recur even after surgical treatment of blebs.[12] It has therefore been suggested that PSP may also be caused by areas of disruption (porosity) in the pleural layer, which are prone to rupture.[11][12][23] Smoking may additionally lead to inflammation and obstruction of small airways, which account for the markedly increased risk of PSPs in smokers.[13] Once air has stopped entering the pleural cavity, it is gradually reabsorbed.[13]

Tension pneumothorax occurs when the opening that allows air to enter the pleural space functions as a one-way valve, allowing more air to enter with every breath but none to escape. The body compensates by increasing the respiratory rate and tidal volume (size of each breath), worsening the problem. Unless corrected, hypoxia (decreased oxygen levels) and respiratory arrest eventually follow.[14]


The symptoms of pneumothorax can be vague and inconclusive, especially in those with a small PSP; confirmation with medical imaging is usually required.[13] In contrast, tension pneumothorax is a medical emergency and may be treated before imaging – especially if there is severe hypoxia, very low blood pressure, or an impaired level of consciousness. In tension pneumothorax, X-rays are sometimes required if there is doubt about the anatomical location of the pneumothorax.[14][16]

Chest X-ray

X-ray of pneumothorax signs
Chest X-ray showing the features of pneumothorax on the left side of the person (right in image)

A plain chest radiograph, ideally with the X-ray beams being projected from the back (posteroanterior, or "PA"), and during maximal inspiration (holding one's breath), is the most appropriate first investigation.[24] It is not believed that routinely taking images during expiration would confer any benefit.[25] Still, they may be useful in the detection of a pneumothorax when clinical suspicion is high but yet an inspiratory radiograph appears normal.[26] Also, if the PA X-ray does not show a pneumothorax but there is a strong suspicion of one, lateral X-rays (with beams projecting from the side) may be performed, but this is not routine practice.[13][17]

X-ray subtle pneumothorax in inspiration - annotated

Anteroposterior inspired X-ray, showing subtle left-sided pneumothorax caused by port insertion

Lateral X-ray of pneumothorax in inspiration - annotated

Lateral inspired X-ray at the same time, more clearly showing the pneumothorax posteriorly in this case

Expired X-ray of pneumothorax

Anteroposterior expired X-ray at the same time, more clearly showing the pneumothorax in this case

It is not unusual for the mediastinum (the structure between the lungs that contains the heart, great blood vessels and large airways) to be shifted away from the affected lung due to the pressure differences. This is not equivalent to a tension pneumothorax, which is determined mainly by the constellation of symptoms, hypoxia, and shock.[12]

The size of the pneumothorax (i.e. the volume of air in the pleural space) can be determined with a reasonable degree of accuracy by measuring the distance between the chest wall and the lung. This is relevant to treatment, as smaller pneumothoraces may be managed differently. An air rim of 2 cm means that the pneumothorax occupies about 50% of the hemithorax.[13] British professional guidelines have traditionally stated that the measurement should be performed at the level of the hilum (where blood vessels and airways enter the lung) with 2 cm as the cutoff,[13] while American guidelines state that the measurement should be done at the apex (top) of the lung with 3 cm differentiating between a "small" and a "large" pneumothorax.[27] The latter method may overestimate the size of a pneumothorax if it is located mainly at the apex, which is a common occurrence.[13] The various methods correlate poorly, but are the best easily available ways of estimating pneumothorax size.[13][17] CT scanning (see below) can provide a more accurate determination of the size of the pneumothorax, but its routine use in this setting is not recommended.[27]

Not all pneumothoraces are uniform; some only form a pocket of air in a particular place in the chest.[13] Small amounts of fluid may be noted on the chest X-ray (hydropneumothorax); this may be blood (hemopneumothorax).[12] In some cases, the only significant abnormality may be the "deep sulcus sign", in which the normally small space between the chest wall and the diaphragm appears enlarged due to the abnormal presence of fluid.[14]

Computed tomography

Pneumotórax espontâneo
CT with the identification of underlying lung lesion: an apical bulla on the right side.

Computed tomography (CT, or "CAT scan") is not necessary for the diagnosis of pneumothorax, but it can be useful in particular situations. In some lung diseases, especially emphysema, it is possible for abnormal lung areas such as bullae (large air-filled sacs) to have the same appearance as a pneumothorax on chest X-ray, and it may not be safe to apply any treatment before the distinction is made and before the exact location and size of the pneumothorax is determined.[13] In trauma, where it may not be possible to perform an upright film, chest radiography may miss up to a third of pneumothoraces, while CT remains very sensitive.[16]

A further use of CT is in the identification of underlying lung lesions. In presumed primary pneumothorax, it may help to identify blebs or cystic lesions (in anticipation of treatment, see below), and in secondary pneumothorax it can help to identify most of the causes listed above.[13][17]


Ultrasound is commonly used in the evaluation of people who have sustained physical trauma, for example with the FAST protocol.[28] Ultrasound may be more sensitive than chest X-rays in the identification of pneumothorax after blunt trauma to the chest.[29] Ultrasound may also provide a rapid diagnosis in other emergency situations, and allow the quantification of the size of the pneumothorax. Several particular features on ultrasonography of the chest can be used to confirm or exclude the diagnosis.[30][31]

Ultrasound showing a pneumothorax[32]

Ultrasound showing a false lung point and not a pneumothorax[33]


The treatment of pneumothorax depends on a number of factors, and may vary from discharge with early follow-up to immediate needle decompression or insertion of a chest tube. Treatment is determined by the severity of symptoms and indicators of acute illness, the presence of underlying lung disease, the estimated size of the pneumothorax on X-ray, and – in some instances – on the personal preference of the person involved.[13]

In traumatic pneumothorax, chest tubes are usually inserted. If mechanical ventilation is required, the risk of tension pneumothorax is greatly increased and the insertion of a chest tube is mandatory.[12][34] Any open chest wound should be covered with an airtight seal, as it carries a high risk of leading to tension pneumothorax. Ideally, a dressing called the "Asherman seal" should be utilized, as it appears to be more effective than a standard "three-sided" dressing. The Asherman seal is a specially designed device that adheres to the chest wall and, through a valve-like mechanism, allows air to escape but not to enter the chest.[35]

Tension pneumothorax is usually treated with urgent needle decompression. This may be required before transport to the hospital, and can be performed by an emergency medical technician or other trained professional.[14][35] The needle or cannula is left in place until a chest tube can be inserted.[14][35] If tension pneumothorax leads to cardiac arrest, needle decompression is performed as part of resuscitation as it may restore cardiac output.[36]


Small spontaneous pneumothoraces do not always require treatment, as they are unlikely to proceed to respiratory failure or tension pneumothorax, and generally resolve spontaneously. This approach is most appropriate if the estimated size of the pneumothorax is small (defined as <50% of the volume of the hemithorax), there is no breathlessness, and there is no underlying lung disease.[17][27] It may be appropriate to treat a larger PSP conservatively if the symptoms are limited.[13] Admission to hospital is often not required, as long as clear instructions are given to return to hospital if there are worsening symptoms. Further investigations may be performed as an outpatient, at which time X-rays are repeated to confirm improvement, and advice given with regard to preventing recurrence (see below).[13] Estimated rates of resorption are between 1.25% and 2.2% the volume of the cavity per day. This would mean that even a complete pneumothorax would spontaneously resolve over a period of about 6 weeks.[13] There is, however, no high quality evidence comparing conservative to non conservative management.[37]

Secondary pneumothoraces are only treated conservatively if the size is very small (1 cm or less air rim) and there are limited symptoms. Admission to the hospital is usually recommended. Oxygen given at a high flow rate may accelerate resorption as much as fourfold.[13][38]


In a large PSP (>50%), or in a PSP associated with breathlessness, some guidelines recommend that reducing the size by aspiration is equally effective as the insertion of a chest tube. This involves the administration of local anesthetic and inserting a needle connected to a three-way tap; up to 2.5 liters of air (in adults) are removed. If there has been significant reduction in the size of the pneumothorax on subsequent X-ray, the remainder of the treatment can be conservative. This approach has been shown to be effective in over 50% of cases.[11][13][17] Compared to tube drainage, first-line aspiration in PSP reduces the number of people requiring hospital admission, without increasing the risk of complications.[39]

Aspiration may also be considered in secondary pneumothorax of moderate size (air rim 1–2 cm) without breathlessness, with the difference that ongoing observation in hospital is required even after a successful procedure.[13] American professional guidelines state that all large pneumothoraces – even those due to PSP – should be treated with a chest tube.[27] Moderately sized iatrogenic traumatic pneumothoraces (due to medical procedures) may initially be treated with aspiration.[12]

Chest tube

A chest tube placed on the right for a pneumothorax

A chest tube (or intercostal drain) is the most definitive initial treatment of a pneumothorax. These are typically inserted in an area under the axilla (armpit) called the "safe triangle", where damage to internal organs can be avoided; this is delineated by a horizontal line at the level of the nipple and two muscles of the chest wall (latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major). Local anesthetic is applied. Two types of tubes may be used. In spontaneous pneumothorax, small-bore (smaller than 14 F, 4.7 mm diameter) tubes may be inserted by the Seldinger technique, and larger tubes do not have an advantage.[13][40] In traumatic pneumothorax, larger tubes (28 F, 9.3 mm) are used.[35]

Chest tubes are required in PSPs that have not responded to needle aspiration, in large SSPs (>50%), and in cases of tension pneumothorax. They are connected to a one-way valve system that allows air to escape, but not to re-enter, the chest. This may include a bottle with water that functions like a water seal, or a Heimlich valve. They are not normally connected to a negative pressure circuit, as this would result in rapid re-expansion of the lung and a risk of pulmonary edema ("re-expansion pulmonary edema"). The tube is left in place until no air is seen to escape from it for a period of time, and X-rays confirm re-expansion of the lung.[13][17][27]

If after 2–4 days there is still evidence of an air leak, various options are available. Negative pressure suction (at low pressures of –10 to –20 cmH2O) at a high flow rate may be attempted, particularly in PSP; it is thought that this may accelerate the healing of the leak. Failing this, surgery may be required, especially in SSP.[13]

Chest tubes are used first-line when pneumothorax occurs in people with AIDS, usually due to underlying pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), as this condition is associated with prolonged air leakage. Bilateral pneumothorax (pneumothorax on both sides) is relatively common in people with pneumocystis pneumonia, and surgery is often required.[13]

It is possible for a patient with a chest tube to be managed in an ambulatory care setting by using a Heimlich valve, although research to demonstrate the equivalence to hospitalization has been of limited quality.[41]

Pleurodesis and surgery

Pleurodesis is a procedure that permanently eliminates the pleural space and attaches the lung to the chest wall. No long-term study (20 years or more) has been performed on its consequences. Good results in the short term are achieved with a thoracotomy (surgical opening of the chest) with identification of any source of air leakage and stapling of blebs followed by pleurectomy (stripping of the pleural lining) of the outer pleural layer and pleural abrasion (scraping of the pleura) of the inner layer. During the healing process, the lung adheres to the chest wall, effectively obliterating the pleural space. Recurrence rates are approximately 1%.[11][13] Post-thoracotomy pain is relatively common.

A less invasive approach is thoracoscopy, usually in the form of a procedure called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). The results from VATS-based pleural abrasion are slightly worse than those achieved using thoracotomy in the short term, but produce smaller scars in the skin.[11][13] Compared to open thoracotomy, VATS offers a shorter in-hospital stays, less need for postoperative pain control, and a reduced risk of lung problems after surgery.[13] VATS may also be used to achieve chemical pleurodesis; this involves insufflation of talc, which activates an inflammatory reaction that causes the lung to adhere to the chest wall.[11][13]

If a chest tube is already in place, various agents may be instilled through the tube to achieve chemical pleurodesis, such as talc, tetracycline, minocycline or doxycycline. Results of chemical pleurodesis tend to be worse than when using surgical approaches,[11][13] but talc pleurodesis has been found to have few negative long-term consequences in younger people.[11]


If pneumothorax occurs in a smoker, this is considered an opportunity to emphasize the markedly increased risk of recurrence in those who continue to smoke, and the many benefits of smoking cessation.[13] It may be advisable for someone to remain off work for up to a week after a spontaneous pneumothorax. If the person normally performs heavy manual labor, several weeks may be required. Those who have undergone pleurodesis may need two to three weeks off work to recover.[42]

Air travel is discouraged for up to seven days after complete resolution of a pneumothorax if recurrence does not occur.[13] Underwater diving is considered unsafe after an episode of pneumothorax unless a preventative procedure has been performed. Professional guidelines suggest that pleurectomy be performed on both lungs and that lung function tests and CT scan normalize before diving is resumed.[13][27] Aircraft pilots may also require assessment for surgery.[13]


A preventative procedure (thoracotomy or thoracoscopy with pleurodesis) may be recommended after an episode of pneumothorax, with the intention to prevent recurrence. Evidence on the most effective treatment is still conflicting in some areas, and there is variation between treatments available in Europe and the US.[11] Not all episodes of pneumothorax require such interventions; the decision depends largely on estimation of the risk of recurrence. These procedures are often recommended after the occurrence of a second pneumothorax.[43] Surgery may need to be considered if someone has experienced pneumothorax on both sides ("bilateral"), sequential episodes that involve both sides, or if an episode was associated with pregnancy.[13]


The annual age-adjusted incidence rate (AAIR) of PSP is thought to be three to six times as high in males as in females. Fishman[44][45] cites AAIR's of 7.4 and 1.2 cases per 100,000 person-years in males and females, respectively. Significantly above-average height is also associated with increased risk of PSP – in people who are at least 76 inches (1.93 meters) tall, the AAIR is about 200 cases per 100,000 person-years. Slim build also seems to increase the risk of PSP.[44]

The risk of contracting a first spontaneous pneumothorax is elevated among male and female smokers by factors of approximately 22 and 9, respectively, compared to matched non-smokers of the same sex.[46] Individuals who smoke at higher intensity are at higher risk, with a "greater-than-linear" effect; men who smoke 10 cigarettes per day have an approximate 20-fold increased risk over comparable non-smokers, while smokers consuming 20 cigarettes per day show an estimated 100-fold increase in risk.[44]

In secondary spontaneous pneumothorax, the estimated annual AAIR is 6.3 and 2.0 cases per 100,000 person-years for males and females,[19][47] respectively, with the risk of recurrence depending on the presence and severity of any underlying lung disease. Once a second episode has occurred, there is a high likelihood of subsequent further episodes.[11] The incidence in children has not been well studied,[17] but is estimated to be between 5 and 10 cases per 100,000 person-years.[48]

Death from pneumothorax is very uncommon (except in tension pneumothoraces). British statistics show an annual mortality rate of 1.26 and 0.62 deaths per million person-years in men and women, respectively.[13] A significantly increased risk of death is seen in older victims and in those with secondary pneumothoraces.[11]


An early description of traumatic pneumothorax secondary to rib fractures appears in Imperial Surgery by Turkish surgeon Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu (1385–1468), which also recommends a method of simple aspiration.[49]

Pneumothorax was described in 1803 by Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, a student of René Laennec, who provided an extensive description of the clinical picture in 1819.[50] While Itard and Laennec recognized that some cases were not due to tuberculosis (then the most common cause), the concept of spontaneous pneumothorax in the absence of tuberculosis (primary pneumothorax) was reintroduced by the Danish physician Hans Kjærgaard in 1932.[13][23][51] In 1941, the surgeons Tyson and Crandall introduced pleural abrasion for the treatment of pneumothorax.[13][52]

Prior to the advent of anti-tuberculous medications, pneumothoraces were intentionally caused by healthcare providers in people with tuberculosis in an effort to collapse a lobe, or entire lung, around a cavitating lesion. This was known as "resting the lung". It was introduced by the Italian surgeon Carlo Forlanini in 1888, and publicized by the American surgeon John Benjamin Murphy in the early 20th century (after discovering the same procedure independently). Murphy used the (then) recently discovered X-ray technology to create pneumothoraces of the correct size.[53]


The word pneumothorax is from the Greek pneumo- meaning air and thorax meaning chest.[54] Its plural is pneumothoraces.

Other animals

Non-human animals may experience both spontaneous and traumatic pneumothorax. Spontaneous pneumothorax is, as in humans, classified as primary or secondary, while traumatic pneumothorax is divided into open and closed (with or without chest wall damage).[55] The diagnosis may be apparent to the veterinary physician because the animal exhibits difficulty breathing in, or has shallow breathing. Pneumothoraces may arise from lung lesions (such as bullae) or from trauma to the chest wall.[56] In horses, traumatic pneumothorax may involve both hemithoraces, as the mediastinum is incomplete and there is a direct connection between the two halves of the chest.[57] Tension pneumothorax – the presence of which may be suspected due to rapidly deteriorating heart function, absent lung sounds throughout the thorax, and a barrel-shaped chest – is treated with an incision in the animal's chest to relieve the pressure, followed by insertion of a chest tube.[58]


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External resources

Atelectasis is the collapse or closure of a lung resulting in reduced or absent gas exchange. It may affect part or all of a lung. It is usually unilateral. It is a condition where the alveoli are deflated down to little or no volume, as distinct from pulmonary consolidation, in which they are filled with liquid. It is often called a collapsed lung, although that term may also refer to pneumothorax.It is a very common finding in chest x-rays and other radiological studies, and may be caused by normal exhalation or by various medical conditions. Although frequently described as a collapse of lung tissue, atelectasis is not synonymous with a pneumothorax, which is a more specific condition that features atelectasis. Acute atelectasis may occur as a post-operative complication or as a result of surfactant deficiency. In premature neonates, this leads to infant respiratory distress syndrome.

The term uses combining forms of atel- + ectasis, from Greek: ἀτελής, "incomplete" + ἔκτασις, "extension".


Barotrauma is physical damage to body tissues caused by a difference in pressure between a gas space inside, or in contact with the body, and the surrounding gas or fluid. The initial damage is usually due to over-stretching the tissues in tension or shear, either directly by expansion of the gas in the closed space, or by pressure difference hydrostatically transmitted through the tissue. Tissue rupture may be complicated by the introduction of gas into the local tissue or circulation through the initial trauma site, which can cause blockage of circulation at distant sites, or interfere with normal function of an organ by its presence.

Barotrauma generally manifests as sinus or middle ear effects, decompression sickness (DCS), lung overpressure injuries, and injuries resulting from external squeezes.

Barotrauma typically occurs when the organism is exposed to a significant change in ambient pressure, such as when a scuba diver, a free-diver or an airplane passenger ascends or descends, or during uncontrolled decompression of a pressure vessel such as a diving chamber or pressurised aircraft, but can also be caused by a shock wave. Ventilator induced lung injury (VILI) is a condition caused by over-expansion of the lungs by mechanical ventilation used when the body is unable to breathe for itself, and is associated with relatively large tidal volumes and relatively high peak pressures. Barotrauma due to overexpansion of an internal gas-filled space may also be termed volutrauma. Bats can be killed by lung barotrauma when flying in low-pressure regions close to operating wind-turbine blades.

Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome

Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome (BHD), also Hornstein–Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome, Hornstein–Knickenberg syndrome, and fibrofolliculomas with trichodiscomas and acrochordons is a human autosomal dominant genetic disorder that can cause susceptibility to kidney cancer, renal and pulmonary cysts, and noncancerous tumors of the hair follicles, called fibrofolliculomas. The symptoms seen in each family are unique, and can include any combination of the three symptoms. Fibrofolliculomas are the most common manifestation, found on the face and upper trunk in over 80% of people with BHD over the age of 40. Pulmonary cysts are equally common (84%), but only 24% of people with BHD eventually experience a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax). Kidney tumors, both cancerous and benign, occur in 14–34% of people with BHD; the associated kidney cancers are often rare hybrid tumors.

Any of these conditions that occurs in a family can indicate a diagnosis of Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome, though it is only confirmed by a genetic test for a mutation in the FLCN gene, which codes for the protein folliculin. Though its function is not fully understood, it appears to be a tumor suppressor gene that restricts cell growth and division. Versions of FLCN have been found in other animals, including fruit flies, German shepherds, rats, and mice. The disease was discovered in 1977, but the connection with FLCN was not elucidated until 2002, after kidney cancer, collapsed lungs, and pulmonary cysts were all definitively connected to BHD.

Birt–Hogg–Dubé syndrome can manifest similarly to other diseases, which must be ruled out when making a diagnosis. These include tuberous sclerosis, which causes skin lesions similar to fibrofolliculomas, and Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which causes hereditary kidney cancers. Once diagnosed, people with BHD are treated preventatively, with monitoring of kidneys and lungs using medical imaging. Fibrofolliculomas can be removed surgically and pneumothorax and kidney cancer are treated according to the normal standard of care.

Catamenial pneumothorax

Catamenial pneumothorax is a condition of air leaking into the pleural space (pneumothorax) occurring in conjunction with menstrual periods (catamenial refers to menstruation), believed to be caused primarily by endometriosis of the pleura (the membrane surrounding the lung).

Chest tube

A chest tube (chest drain, thoracic catheter, tube thoracostomy, or intercostal drain) is a flexible plastic tube that is inserted through the chest wall and into the pleural space or mediastinum. It is used to remove air (pneumothorax), fluid, pleural effusion, blood, chyle), or pus (empyema) from the intrathoracic space. It is also known as a Bülau drain or an intercostal catheter.

The concept of chest drainage was first advocated by Hippocrates when he described the treatment of empyema by means of incision, cautery, and insertion of metal tubes. However, the technique was not widely used until the influenza epidemic of 1917 to drain post-pneumonic empyema, which was first documented by Dr. C. Pope, on "Joel", a 22-month-old infant. The use of chest tubes in postoperative thoracic care was reported in 1922, and they were regularly used post-thoracotomy in World War II, though they were not routinely used for emergency tube thoracostomy following acute trauma until the Korean War.


Fibrothorax is a medical condition characterised by scarring (fibrosis) of the pleural space surrounding the lungs that is severe enough to cause reduced movement of the lung and ribcage. The main symptom of fibrothorax is shortness of breath. Fibrothorax may occur as a complication of many diseases, including infection of the pleural space known as an empyema or bleeding into the pleural space known as a haemothorax. Fibrosis in the pleura may be produced intentionally using a technique called pleurodesis to prevent recurrent punctured lung or pneumothorax, and the usually limited fibrosis that this produces can rarely be extensive enough to lead to fibrothorax. The condition is most often diagnosed using an X-ray or CT scan. Fibrothorax is often treated conservatively but may require surgery.

Focused assessment with sonography for trauma

Focused assessment with sonography in trauma (commonly abbreviated as FAST) is a rapid bedside ultrasound examination performed by surgeons, emergency physicians and certain paramedics as a screening test for blood around the heart (pericardial effusion) or abdominal organs (hemoperitoneum) after trauma.The four classic areas that are examined for free fluid are the perihepatic space (including Morison's pouch or the hepatorenal recess), perisplenic space, pericardium, and the pelvis. With this technique it is possible to identify the presence of intraperitoneal or pericardial free fluid. In the context of traumatic injury, this fluid will usually be due to bleeding.


Hemopneumothorax, or haemopneumothorax, is a medical term describing the combination of two conditions: pneumothorax, or air in the chest cavity, and hemothorax (also called hæmothorax), or blood in the chest cavity.

A hemothorax, pneumothorax or both can occur if the chest wall is punctured. To understand the ramifications of this it is important to have an understanding of the role of the pleural space. The pleural space is located anatomically between the visceral membrane, which is firmly attached to the lungs, and the parietal membrane which is firmly attached to the chest wall (a.k.a. ribcage and intercostal muscles, muscles between the ribs). The pleural space contains pleural fluid. This fluid holds the two membranes together by surface tension, as much as a drop of water between two sheets of glass prevents them from separating. Because of this, when the intercostal muscles move the ribcage outward, the lungs are pulled out as well, dropping the pressure in the lungs and pulling air into the bronchi, when we 'breathe in'. The pleural space is maintained in a constant state of negative pressure (in comparison to atmospheric pressure).


A hemothorax is a type of pleural effusion in which blood accumulates in the pleural cavity. This excess fluid can interfere with normal breathing by limiting the expansion of the lungs. The term is from hemo- + thorax.


Hydropneumothorax is defined as the presence of both air and fluid within the pleural space. An upright chest x-ray will show air fluid levels. The horizontal fluid level is usually well defined and extends across the whole length of hemithorax.

Occlusive dressing

An occlusive dressing is an air- and water-tight trauma medical dressing used in first aid. These dressings are generally made with a waxy coating so as to provide a total seal, and as a result do not have the absorbent properties of gauze pads. They are typically used to treat open, or "sucking," chest wounds (open pneumothorax) to alleviate or prevent a tension pneumothorax (a serious complication of a simple pneumothorax). They are also used in conjunction with a moist sterile dressing for intestinal evisceration.Occlusive dressings come in various forms, including petrolatum gauze, which sticks to the skin surrounding the wound using petrolatum.

They can also be used to enhance the penetration and absorption of topically-applied medications, such as ointments and creams. Furthermore, they may be used in in vivo acute toxicity tests of dermal irritation and sensitization. The test animal is shaved and the test material is applied to the skin and wrapped in an occlusive material. The skin is then exposed after 23 hours and an assessment for redness and edema is made. This assessment is repeated 48 hours later.

On the loss of a fingernail or thumbnail, the area under the eponychium (cuticle) can be packed with this type of dressing to act as a stent. This helps prevent the cuticle from fusing to the exposed nail bed; otherwise, such fusion can prevent regrowth of a new nail.

Pleural cavity

The pleural cavity is the thin fluid-filled space between the two pulmonary pleurae (known as visceral and parietal) of each lung. A pleura is a serous membrane which folds back onto itself to form a two-layered membranous pleural sac. The outer pleura (parietal pleura) is attached to the chest wall, but is separated from it by the endothoracic fascia. The inner pleura (visceral pleura) covers the lungs and adjoining structures, including blood vessels, bronchi and nerves. The pleural cavity can be viewed as a potential space because the two pleurae adhere to each other (through the thin film of serous liquid) under all normal conditions. Parietal pleura projects up to 2.5 cm above the junction of the middle and medial third of the clavicle


Pleurisy, also known as pleuritis, is inflammation of the membranes that surround the lungs and line the chest cavity (pleurae). This can result in a sharp chest pain with breathing. Occasionally the pain may be a constant dull ache. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, cough, fever or weight loss, depending on the underlying cause.The most common cause is a viral infection. Other causes include pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, autoimmune disorders, lung cancer, following heart surgery, pancreatitis, chest trauma, and asbestosis. Occasionally the cause remains unknown. The underlying mechanism involves the rubbing together of the pleurae instead of smooth gliding. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms include pericarditis, heart attack, cholecystitis, and pneumothorax. Diagnosis may include a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), and blood tests.Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Paracetamol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen may be used to decrease pain. Incentive spirometry may be recommended to encourage larger breaths. About one million people are affected in the United States each year. Descriptions of the condition date from at least as early as 400 BC by Hippocrates.

Rib fracture

A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone. This typically results in chest pain that is worse with breathing in. Bruising may occur at the site of the break. When several ribs are broken in several places a flail chest results. Potential complications include a pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion, and pneumonia.Rib fractures usually occur from a direct blows to the chest such as during a motor vehicle collision or from a crush injury. Coughing or metastatic cancer may also result in a broken rib. The middle ribs are most commonly fractured. Fractures of the first or second ribs are more likely to be associated with complications. Diagnosis can be made based on symptoms and supported by medical imaging.Pain control is an important part of treatment. This may include the use of paracetamol (acetaminophen), NSAIDs, or opioids. A nerve block may be another option. While fractured ribs have been wrapped, this may increase complications. In those with a flail chest, surgery may improve outcomes. They are a common injury following trauma.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is the feeling that one cannot breathe well enough. The American Thoracic Society defines it as "a subjective experience of breathing discomfort that consists of qualitatively distinct sensations that vary in intensity", and recommends evaluating dyspnea by assessing the intensity of the distinct sensations, the degree of distress involved, and its burden or impact on activities of daily living. Distinct sensations include effort/work, chest tightness, and air hunger (the feeling of not enough oxygen).Dyspnea is a normal symptom of heavy exertion but becomes pathological if it occurs in unexpected situations or light exertion. In 85% of cases it is due to asthma, pneumonia, cardiac ischemia, interstitial lung disease, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or psychogenic causes, such as panic disorder and anxiety. Treatment typically depends on the underlying cause.

Subcutaneous emphysema

Subcutaneous emphysema (SCE, SE) is when gas or air is in the layer under the skin. Subcutaneous refers to the tissue beneath the skin, and emphysema refers to trapped air. Since the air generally comes from the chest cavity, subcutaneous emphysema usually occurs on the chest, neck and face, where it is able to travel from the chest cavity along the fascia. Subcutaneous emphysema has a characteristic crackling feel to the touch, a sensation that has been described as similar to touching Rice Krispies; this sensation of air under the skin is known as subcutaneous crepitation.

Numerous etiologies of subcutaneous emphysema have been described. Pneumomediastinum was first recognized as a medical entity by Laennec, who reported it as a consequence of trauma in 1819. Later, in 1939, at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Louis Hamman described it in postpartum woman; indeed, subcutaneous emphysema is sometimes known as Hamman's syndrome. However, in some medical circles, it can instead be more commonly known as Macklin's Syndrome after L. Macklin, in 1939, and M.T. and C.C. Macklin, in 1944, who cumulatively went on to describe the pathophysiology in more detail.Subcutaneous emphysema can result from puncture of parts of the respiratory or gastrointestinal systems. Particularly in the chest and neck, air may become trapped as a result of penetrating trauma (e.g., gunshot wounds or stab wounds) or blunt trauma. Infection (e.g., gas gangrene) can cause gas to be trapped in the subcutaneous tissues. Subcutaneous emphysema can be caused by medical procedures and medical conditions that cause the pressure in the alveoli of the lung to be higher than that in the tissues outside of them. Its most common causes are pneumothorax and a chest tube that has become occluded by a blood clot or fibrinous material. It can also occur spontaneously due to rupture of the alveoli with dramatic presentation. When the condition is caused by surgery it is called surgical emphysema. The term spontaneous subcutaneous emphysema is used when the cause is not clear.

Subcutaneous emphysema is not typically dangerous in and of itself, however it can be a symptom of very dangerous underlying conditions, such as pneumothorax. Although the underlying conditions require treatment, subcutaneous emphysema usually does not; small amounts of air are reabsorbed by the body. However, subcutaneous emphysema can be uncomfortable and may interfere with breathing, and is often treated by removing air from the tissues, for example by using large bore needles, skin incisions or subcutaneous catheterization.


A thoracotomy is a surgical procedure to gain access into the pleural space of the chest. It is performed by surgeons (or emergency physicians under certain circumstances) to gain access to the thoracic organs, most commonly the heart, the lungs, or the esophagus, or for access to the thoracic aorta or the anterior spine (the latter may be necessary to access tumors in the spine). The purpose of a thoracotomy is the first step used to facilitate thoracic surgeries including lobectomy or pneumonectomy for lung cancer or to gain thoracic access in major trauma.


The thorax or chest (from the Greek θώραξ thorax "breastplate, cuirass, corslet" via Latin: thorax) is a part of the anatomy of humans and various other animals located between the neck and the abdomen. The thorax includes the thoracic cavity and the thoracic wall. It contains organs including the heart, lungs, and thymus gland, as well as muscles and various other internal structures. Many diseases may affect the chest, and one of the most common symptoms is chest pain.

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