A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is a buildup of air in the space between the lung and the chest wall (pleural space). As the amount of air in this space increases, the pressure against the lung causes the lung to collapse. This prevents your lung from expanding properly when you try to breathe in, causing shortness of breath and chest pain.
A pneumothorax may become life-threatening if the pressure in your chest prevents the lungs from getting enough oxygen into the blood.
What causes a pneumothorax?
A pneumothorax is usually caused by an injury to the chest, such as a broken rib or puncture wound. It may also occur suddenly without an injury.
A minor pneumothorax may only require observation by your doctor; in some cases, oxygen may be given (through a mask). More serious cases are treated by inserting a needle or a chest tube into the chest cavity. Both of these procedures relieve the pressure on the lung and allow it to re-expand.
Surgery may be needed if the original treatment does not work or if the pneumothorax returns.
What are the chances that a pneumothorax will return?
If you have had one pneumothorax, you have an increased risk for another. Nearly all recurrences happen within 2 years of the first pneumothorax. If you smoke, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of another pneumothorax.