Traumatic (Blunt Trauma) Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax occurs when air leaks out from a lung 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. Pneumothorax can occur as a result of a blow to the chest, such as from a fall or car accident (blunt trauma). It can happen with or without a broken rib. It may also happen without an injury.

A small pneumothorax caused by blunt trauma, may not need a hospital stay after diagnosis. It can be treated at home. The trapped air will be absorbed, and the lung will re-expand by itself. Larger amounts of trapped air must be treated in a hospital.


Symptoms of pneumothorax include:

  • Trouble breathing or being unable to take a full breath

  • Sharp chest pain when breathing

  • Tightness in the chest

Home care

  • Rest at home. Don't do vigorous activity or exercise for the next week or until your healthcare provider says it’s safe to do so.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. 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 with 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 an incentive spirometer (breathing exercise device) was given, use it as directed.

  • If you smoke or use e-cigarettes, get help to quit.

  • Don't fly or go diving until your healthcare provider says it’s safe to do so.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If X-rays have been taken, you will be told of any new findings that may affect your care. You can also call as advised for the results.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur.

  • Trouble breathing gets worse

  • Confusion or trouble waking up

  • Rapid heart rate

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

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

When to get medical advice

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

  • Increased pain with breathing

  • Fever

  • Productive cough

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