Pneumothorax is associated with the collapse of a lung or a portion of it. At the back of the collapsed lung, the actual reason for a pneumothorax is the presence of air between the chest wall and the lung. That is in the pleural space. There are different types of pneumothorax namely; tension pneumothorax, which is as a result of air build up in the pleural cavity, causing pressure on the lungs. Simple pneumothorax, characterized by the partial collapse of the lung, and traumatic pneumothorax, which is due to direct trauma to the chest. Disease-related pneumothorax is another type that is associated with abnormalities in the lung tissue including lung diseases such as COPD, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, and asthma. Pneumothorax, in general, can be a life-threatening pulmonary condition if not diagnosed early enough or if it is not treated.
Is Spontaneous Pneumothorax Life Threatening?
The severity or life-threatening aspect of spontaneous pneumothorax is determined by the degree of extremity. For small pneumothorax, the risk of danger is low whereas the risk is higher if the pneumothorax is large. Therefore, it is important that pneumothorax symptoms are monitored closely so as to catch up on any increase in severity when the condition is worsening.
Spontaneous pneumothorax is a type of pneumothorax where the lung collapses with no apparent injury or trauma. It develops progressively and the exact cause cannot be easily identified without an examination of the underlying cause. In many cases of spontaneous pneumothorax, abnormal small alveoli in the lung (blebs) have been discovered with trapped air. Many small blebs can come together and form bullae which are a bigger mass of blebs. When the blebs burst, they leak air into the pleural space, causing spontaneous pneumothorax. This kind of pneumothorax can also be attributed to by certain risk factors such as tall and thin people. They are at a greater risk of spontaneous pneumothorax because of the shape of their lungs and chest cavity.
Cigarette smoking also increases one’s risk of developing spontaneous pneumothorax because it destroys the condition of lungs gradually. Also, the more you are exposed to the smoke of cigarettes, it causes pathological changes in the airways. This can further lead to the development of emphysema and consequently, the formation of bullae. Recreational drug users who inhale deeply and forcefully can also develop a spontaneous pneumothorax, but it is uncommon. Either way doesn’t mean it cannot happen.
Symptoms of Spontaneous Pneumothorax
Patient suffering from spontaneous pneumothorax exhibit symptoms that are common with the pneumothorax disease, they include;
- Shortness of breath.
- Stabbing chest pain that worsens with coughing or deep breathing.
If the pneumothorax is large, one experiences severe symptoms such as;
Treating Spontaneous Pneumothorax
The first step to treating spontaneous pneumothorax is by getting a definitive diagnosis that explains the extremity of the condition. A physical exam can be done to assess any decreased breath sounds on the affected lung side. Additionally, a chest X-ray can be requested to clarify that one has a pneumothorax. If that is the case, the radiological results show a shift of the trachea to the opposite side, if the damage is grave. Other than that, the doctor will consider your medical history, to know whether pneumothorax runs in your family or if you’ve ever had a pneumothorax there before.
In less severe cases of spontaneous pneumothorax, oxygen supplementation could fix the condition and it could resolve on its own. Otherwise, a needle or chest tube can be inserted into the pleural space, between the ribs, to release the trapped air. If that doesn’t work and there is a risk of recurrence, then a corrective lung surgery can be done to repair the damage done on the lungs. A thoracotomy or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) can be performed to locate where the problem is and the right approach of treatment configured. Depending on the problem, the air leaks will be closed, or a portion of the lung removed (lobectomy).
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