Atelectasis

Front view of man showing respiratory system.

The lungs’ job is to get air into and out of the body. Inside the lungs, air travels through a network of branching airways (tubes) made of stretchy tissue. If something blocks these airways, or if there is too much pressure on a lung, the lung may collapse. Partial or full collapse of a lung is called atelectasis. This can cause a drop in oxygen levels. Atelectasis may be due to any of these:

  • A long time on bed rest

  • Pattern of shallow breathing

  • Heavy sedation

  • Obesity

  • A foreign object in one of the air passages

  • A tumor (benign or malignant) that presses on an air passage

  • Chest or belly (abdominal) pain from surgery, injury, or other condition that may limit the ability to cough or breathe deeply

The treatment for atelectasis depends on the cause.

Home care

If your atelectasis is due to bed rest, sedation, shallow breathing, or obesity, do these things to help increase air flow in your lungs.

  • If you were given an incentive spirometer device: Use it as directed.

  • If you weren't given an incentive spirometer: Take 4 very deep breaths every 1 to 2 hours while awake. As you exhale, purse your lips as if you were blowing up a balloon. (If possible, actually blow up a balloon or a rubber glove.)

If atelectasis was due to other causes, follow your provider’s advice for home care.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Cough with congestion or colored sputum

  • Belly pain starts or gets worse

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain that's worse with breathing

  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting

  • Coughing up blood

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