Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

A pneumothorax is a condition caused due to the filling of air in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This space is called as pleural cavity or pleural space. The space between these two is occupied by a thin serous fluid. If this space gets filled with air, it causes pneumothorax.

A pneumothorax is a medical emergency. It is a potentially life -threatening condition and needs to be treated immediately.

Can Pneumothorax Go Away On Its Own?

The treatment of a pneumothorax depends upon the severity of symptoms and the size of the pneumothorax. A small spontaneous pneumothorax, especially a primary one can be left to heal on its own, if it is not producing severe symptoms. For a secondary spontaneous pneumothorax (SSP); however, even if it is a small one, close monitoring is advised and hospitalization is suggested. But, if it is causing severe symptoms, then prompt measures have to be taken so as to avoid collapse of lungs.

Pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition. A small primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) can be left on its own, but many times the pneumothorax presents with severe symptoms and if neglected, can prove to be potentially fatal.

Types of Pneumothorax

There are broadly two types of pneumothorax- traumatic and non-traumatic.

Traumatic pneumothorax is a result of an injury-either blunt or penetrating- to the chest wall. This type of wound damages the lung tissue. The air starts getting collected in the pleural space through the wound. If the lung is also pierced, the air from the lungs also escapes and starts filling the pleural space as well. This exerts even more pressure on the lung and it gets compressed and cannot inflate to the fullest. As a result, the lung deflates completely. This is called a collapsed lung. This condition can further precipitate into tension pneumothorax, which is a medical emergency, and is extremely fatal.

The non-traumatic type is caused in the absence of a trauma. It is a spontaneous condition. This type is further classified as primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP) and secondary spontaneous pneumothorax (SSP).

The PSPs are caused in the absence of any apparent reason, injury or a lung disease. The exact cause for the PSP is not known, but these are seen more in the persons who smoke, have a family history of pneumothorax and also in male sex.

The SSPs are caused as a complication of a significant lung disease, like COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer etc.

Signs and Symptoms of Pneumothorax

The signs and symptoms of a pneumothorax are majorly chest pain and breathlessness. Apart from this, in a PSP, there are not many severe symptoms. Usually, these symptoms are unnoticed by the person and often it is too late by the time a physician is informed about this. They are mostly seen due to change in atmospheric pressure. PSPs generally do not precipitate into tension pneumothoraces.

SSPs are seen as a complication of an already existent lung disease, like COPD, asthma etc. They present with more severe symptoms as the lungs are already affected due to the existent lung disease. Hence, the functioning of the lung is already compromised and that adds to the symptoms caused by the SSP. Hypoxemia (reduced blood-oxygen), hypercapnia (increased blood -carbon dioxide), cyanosis (bluish discoloration of lips and skin) are majorly seen in SSPs, especially if the SSP is of moderate to large size.

If a person already suffers from any lung disease, and if such person presents with sudden breathlessness or other related symptoms, it is to be reported at once to the physician, so that a prompt diagnosis can be made and the treatment can be started accordingly.

How Is Pneumothorax Diagnosed?

Physical examination of chest by auscultation may reveal diminished breath sounds in the affected part of the chest. However, this alone may not be sufficient to confirm the diagnosis. Hence, other diagnostic measures like x-ray, CT scan or the USG might be needed.

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: October 10, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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