The term atelectasis refers to a partial collapse of the lung due to the failure of small airways in the organ. The actual pathology isn’t clearly understood but there are several causes related to this condition. Alveoli are air sacs in the lungs which inflate and deflate when there’s exchange of air in the lungs. Once these alveoli are compromised and are unable to function properly, then that condition is what is known as atelectasis. Atelectasis can also be an aftermath or rather a post-operative pulmonary condition. It is rather a common occurrence in patients who’ve undergone thoracic or upper abdominal surgery resulting in abnormal alterations in the lungs. However, the condition may or may not have symptoms and treatment is dependent on the extent of severity.

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How Do You Fix Atelectasis?

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How Do You Fix Atelectasis?

Fixing atelectasis can be done in several ways depending on which procedure is most ideal and effective. Simple procedures such as coughing and deep breathing can fix atelectasis when it is less extreme and there is no major obstruction involved. Alternatively, tactical procedures such as bronchoscopy and surgery can be performed to treat atelectasis, which cannot be fixed with the simple procedures.

There are a few effective treatment options which will help manage atelectasis. For example, deep breathing exercises and chest physiotherapy that ensures the alveoli are open and coughing can be done effectively. The best way of treating atelectasis depends on what caused the condition. In the case of obstructive atelectasis, where there is a blockage on the airways, then forceful coughing can help relieve the condition by unblocking the airways. Alternatively, whatever is blocking the airways can be suctioned out, allowing air to course through. If the obstruction is a tumor or foreign body, then surgery can be done to remove the blocking element from the lungs. Tumors can also be removed via chemotherapy, radiation or laser therapy. A bronchoscopy, which is a less invasive procedure for surgery, could also be performed to achieve the same results.

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Pleuritic pain is one of the symptoms of atelectasis, which can make breathing deeply and coughing difficult. Therefore, in such a case, pain medication should be given to allow the patient to perform the named exercises in ease. Many physicians advise treatment with opioids analgesics for pain management. If the course of atelectasis is not obstructive, then the underlying problem needs to be managed immediately so as not to implicate lung functionality. For example, if the cause of atelectasis is a minor infection, antibiotics can be prescribed whereas, if the infection is chronic, the affected part of the lung can be surgically removed.

After surgery, chest physiotherapy is advised as a preventive measure. If the patient has a deformed chest or nerve problem, oxygen needs to be constantly given, either through the nose or a face mask. This enhances airway pressure and also prevents airway collapse, in case of pauses between breaths.

What To Expect If You Have Atelectasis?

If you develop atelectasis, there are a few clinical features you’ll exhibit. The most common is increased respiratory rate and reduced oxygen saturation. Due to the collapse of some of the alveoli, your lung volume decreases in all or part of the lung. The more alveoli that have failed, the lower your lung volume will be and risk of full lung collapse increases. When a small part of the lung is affected, then you’ll show minimal symptoms. On the other hand, when a large part if affected, then you may experience; coughing, shortness of breath, bluish discoloration on the skin, fast and shallow breathing as well as pain in the affected side of the lung.

Diagnosis of Atelectasis

Atelectasis can be diagnosed through a chest x-ray, which reveals the areas of collapsed airways. A chest x-ray can also reveal lung opacification and/or loss of lung volume. Patients who show any unexplained respiratory symptoms should be tested for this condition, especially if they’ve had major surgery. In cases where the condition isn’t attributed to clinical causes, and other risk factors are in play, the underlying problem should be investigated. This is because atelectasis could only be a sign of other health complications which can be severe and dangerous in nature. In case a chest x-ray is inconclusive, a CT scan can be conducted for better imaging of the collapsed airways.

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: October 5, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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