Is Atelectasis The Same As Pneumothorax?

Atelectasis refers to the partial collapse of a lung. Atelectasis is usually caused by a blockage of the airways, excessive pressure in the lungs or an increase in fluid in the lungs. While pneumothorax also refers to a collapsed lung, it differs from atelectasis as it is caused by a puncture in the lining of the lungs. This perforation of the pleural membrane that protects the lungs leads to an air current in the thoracic cavity and a subsequent collapse of the lung. Since a collapse of the lung reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to various parts of the body, both pneumothorax and atelectasis are potentially fatal diseases if left untreated.

Causes of Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax can develop as a result of:

-Some type of injury or trauma, such as a fracture of the ribs or being shot or stabbed in the chest.

-Other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis could cause a spontaneous rupture of the lungs.

-Smoking habit.

-A history of respiratory diseases and collapsed lungs.

-Low and very high weight can also make a person more susceptible to pneumothorax.

Causes of Atelectasis

Atelectasis is a common side effect of general anesthesia or surgery. People who have been confined to the rest bed can also develop this condition. Other causes of atelectasis include: The mucus plugs, a blockage caused by inhaled foreign material, difficulty breathing, pulmonary embolism, other lung diseases, the pleural effusion, tumors, premature birth, lung cancer, congestive heart failure, obesity, and pneumothorax can also be a cause of atelectasis.

Symptoms of Pneumothorax and Atelectasis

Since both conditions involve a lung collapse, the symptoms are similar. Symptoms can vary from mild and barely perceptible to severe or chronic. These include Difficulty breathing, chronic cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, chest tightness, blue lips or fingers due to lack of oxygen, fatigue, low blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pneumothorax and Atelectasis

To diagnose the condition, a physical examination and a chest x-ray are necessary. In addition, computed tomography scan of the chest or a bronchoscopy can be performed as well.

Treating atelectasis and pneumothorax depends on the severity of the symptoms and the cause of the condition. If the patient cannot breathe or suffers from a severe lack of oxygen, intubation and hospitalization may be requested. Other methods of treatment include:

-Postural drainage in cases of excess fluid collected in the lungs.

-Chest punctures to release air from the thoracic cavity as a result of pneumothorax.

-Surgery to repair damage to your chest and lungs.

-Oxygen therapy.

-Deep breathing exercises, including incentive spirometry.

-Bronchoscopy to eliminate any blockage or obstruction. It is a medical test performed by means of a bronchoscope, a device that consists of a tube and of very variable length, depending on the age of the patient, which has a video camera at its end.

-Physical therapy like a clap or a cough to clear the mucus plugs in the lungs.

Recovery from pneumothorax or atelectasis can take time. In cases where symptoms are mild, treatment may also not be necessary as a condition tends to resolve and breathing is not compromised. Care must be taken to avoid any infection during the recovery phase, as people with a collapsed lung are more susceptible to pneumonia. Sometimes antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent this from happening. The risk of conditions such as atelectasis and pneumothorax increase when there is a long delay in diagnosis and treatment. Respiratory conditions need immediate medical attention since the proper functioning of the lungs is indispensable for the supply of oxygen to the different parts of the body.


Both pneumothorax and atelectasis have in common the ability to provoke a lung collapse; the differences are the mechanisms that originate them. In the first case, it is mostly caused by some injury or trauma, while atelectasis can be a side effect of anesthesia or surgery by a blockage of the airways.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 8, 2018

Recent Posts

Related Posts