Spontaneous Pneumothorax

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.

Illustration of the chest showing position of the collapsed lung, air pockets, healthy lung, ribs, and pleural cavity.

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 (catheter) placed into the pleural space.

Home care

  • Rest at home. Don't do vigorous activity or exercise. Speak with your doctor to determine when it's safe to start exerting yourself again.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. Use only the prescribed amount. ( Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding. Also talk to your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots).

  • During the next 3 days, it's 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 the provider gave you a breathing exercise device (incentive spirometer), use it as directed.

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

  • Stay away from 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.

If X-rays were taken, you will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur.

  • Breathing gets more difficult

  • Confusion, dizziness, or difficulty arousing

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

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

  • Lips or skin looks blue, purple, or gray in color

  • Feeling of doom

When to seek medical advice

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

  • Increased pain with breathing

  • Weakness

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher , or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Coughing up sputum

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