How Is Tension Pneumothorax Treated?

A pneumothorax is caused when the air gets collected in the pleural space between the lungs and the chest wall. When so much air gets collected that it may cause excessive pressure on lungs, then one or both lungs may collapse. This is known as tension pneumothorax. Tension pneumothorax can result in severe respiratory distress and if not attended to promptly, it may result in death.

How is Tension Pneumothorax Treated?

Tension pneumothorax is a medical emergency. Till the person reaches the hospital, emergency procedures are done, such as decompressing with the help of a needle, closing the hole or wound by a gloved hand, or plastic wrap or something similar so that more air does not enter the chest. This will help to lower the pressure inside the chest and more pressure will not build up.

If a person is carried in an ambulance to the hospital, one may be provided with oxygen on the way.

Once at the hospital, a chest tube will have to be inserted, to expel the air out that has built up in the chest.

Tension pneumothorax is a medical emergency and should be attended to efficiently and promptly, as any delay in treatment will cause severe respiratory distress and will prove to be fatal.

A tension pneumothorax may cause so much pressure inside the chest that the heart and other important organs may get pushed and may cause serious health problems.

A tension pneumothorax is usually seen as a result of an injury to the chest or lungs. An injury such as gunshot wound or a knife stab may pierce the chest and as a result, air is sucked up inside the pleural cavity. Now, if this wound pierces the lung as well, the air from the affected lung will also leak into the pleural cavity, thus resulting in the built up of even more air in the pleural space. This collected air will start exerting pressure on the lung, forcing it to collapse.

Even though, the injury is not a piercing one, there still might be some bleeding inside the pleural cavity. In this case, it is not the air but the blood that causes the pressure on the lung, forcing it to collapse. This is known as a hemothorax.

If a tension pneumothorax is not attended to promptly, it may get worse. One lung will collapse, making breathing very troublesome for the person. The symptoms will keep getting worse if not attended to even at this stage.

The air or blood will now start pushing against the heart, and as a result the heart will not be able to receive blood and pump it to the rest of the body. The other body organs will fall short of blood, resulting in their death.

Also, too much bleeding in the chest can be fatal as the person may go into shock.

If the air or blood keeps collecting and creates too much pressure in the chest, it will force the other lung to collapse as well. If this happens, it will not be possible for the person to breathe and it will result in death.

Pneumothorax Symptoms

There are some other important signs and symptoms that a pneumothorax may cause.

Mediastinal Shift– mediastinum is the space between the heart and the lungs. So everything that is in this space will get shifted away from the part that is affected.

Bulging Intercostal Muscles– intercostal muscles are the ones present between the ribs. They may get pushed and bulged out as the pressure will be exerted on them too.

Jugular Vein Distension– the jugular veins are present in the neck. These get filled with blood as the blood will not be able to reach the heart. So the blood will get collected in these veins and they will look popped out.

Diminished Breath Sounds– the breath sounds will be diminished on the affected side as the air will affect the transmission of sound.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 17, 2018

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