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Pediatric Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)

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Summary

A collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, happens when air escapes the lung, most often because of an injury. The escaped air fills the space between the lung and chest wall, making it difficult for the lung to expand to its normal size.

Expanded Overview

A collapsed lung in children usually occurs due to trauma such as a broken rib, but it can be the result of blisters, or "blebs," of abnormal lung tissue that begin to leak. This "spontaneous" pneumothorax most often occurs in tall, teenaged boys. Certain lung diseases including asthma, cystic fibrosis and whooping cough increase the chances of a collapsed lung in children.

In infants, a pneumothorax can be the result of respiratory distress syndrome, a condition found most often in premature babies. These infants lack the surfactants that help the air sacs on their lungs stay open. When they are put on a breathing machine (ventilator) the air sacs can burst, causing air to leak into the chest cavity.

Symptoms

  • Bluish skin color (due to lack of oxygen)
  • Coughing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain that gets worse with deep breaths
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Tiring easily

Tests and Diagnosis

To diagnose a collapsed lung, a doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the child's breathing. She may also order arterial blood gas tests or a chest X-ray

Treatment

As serious as a collapsed lung sounds, it is usually easily treated with minimally invasive surgery. Often, a collapsed lung will heal by itself.

  • Oxygen
  • Chest tube

 

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