Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Medical art showing collapsed lung, ribs and pleural cavity.Pneumothorax is when air leaks out and gets trapped in the space between the lung and the chest wall (pleural space). It can cause complete or partial collapse of a lung. The trapped air prevents the lung from re-inflating. Spontaneous pneumothorax occurs when a weakened spot on the lung surface (“bleb”) ruptures. It may occur in people with asthma or emphysema, or even in those with no pre-existing lung disease.

If your pneumothorax is small, it should get better without treatment and can be managed at home. If the amount of trapped air grows larger, it must be removed with a tube placed into the pleural space (catheter).

Home care

  • Rest at home. Do not do vigorous activity or exercise. Speak with your doctor to determine when it is safe to start exerting yourself again.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. Use only the prescribed amount. Note: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk to your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots.

  • During the next 3 days, it is important to take 4 slow, deep breaths every 1 to 2 hours while awake. Do this even though your chest may hurt when you breathe. It sends extra oxygen and blood to the lung. This is important to help keep the lung expanded. If an incentive spirometer (breathing exercise device) was given, use it as directed.

  • If you smoke or use e-cigarettes, quit. Ask your healthcare provider for help.

  • Avoid secondhand smoke. Don't let anyone smoke in your house or car.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised, for a repeat chest X-ray to be sure the pneumothorax is not getting larger.

Note: Any X-rays taken will be reviewed by a specialist. You will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur.

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion or difficulty arousing

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Passing out or fainting

  • New pain in the chest, arm, shoulder, neck, or upper back

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increased pain with breathing

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • Fever

  • Coughing up sputum

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