What Is Non-traumatic Pneumothorax?

Pneumothorax is a term used to define a collapsed lung. It is different from atelectasis in a way that in pneumothorax the air is filled in the pleural cavity, thereby making the pressure in the cavity abnormal and collapsing the lung. It is worth mentioning that a well-defines pressure of air should be maintained to inflate the lungs. Thus, while atelectasis is the phenomenon primary related to the factors affecting the lungs from inside, pneumothorax affects the lungs from outside, i.e. from the pleural cavity. Pneumothorax may be of two types depending upon the causes i.e. traumatic pneumothorax and non-traumatic pneumothorax. The traumatic pneumothorax is caused by the injury while nontraumatic is not caused by the injury and it is spontaneous. Thus, nontraumatic pneumothorax is also known as spontaneous pneumothorax. The trauma for pneumothorax may include injury in vehicle accident, injury in contact sport and a bullet wound. Symptoms are similar to atelectasis such as shortness of breath and experiencing fatigue.

What Is Non-traumatic Pneumothorax?

What Is Non-traumatic Pneumothorax?

The non-traumatic pneumothorax, as the name suggests, is the pneumothorax developed without any injury. As it is spontaneously developed, it is also known as spontaneous pneumothorax. The non-traumatic pneumothorax is further divided in to two types:

  1. Primary Non-Traumatic Pneumothorax: It is the type of pneumothorax which occurs in the patients who have no known history of the underlying lung disease.
  2. Secondary Non-Traumatic Pneumothorax: It occurs in the patients having known history of lung disease such as asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease or emphysema.

The small sacs of air called blebs are present in the ruptures tissue of the lungs and when they break, they release air in the pleural cavity that leads to lung collapse. Small airways obstruction and the inflammation are also the cause for pneumothorax. The risk of recurrence of pneumothorax can be reduced by cessation of smoking. Further, secondary spontaneous pneumothorax is more dangerous than primary spontaneous pneumothorax and has higher morbidity and mortality.

Symptoms of Non-Traumatic Pneumothorax

Although the severity of the non-traumatic pneumothorax symptoms depends upon the size of the lungs being impacted, if the breathing becomes completely dysfunctional then the symptoms are more severe as compared to partially dysfunctional breathing. The incidences of low levels of breathing required immediate medical intervention. Following are the symptoms of non-traumatic pneumothorax:

Diagnosis of Non-Traumatic Pneumothorax

As the non-traumatic pneumothorax involves the presence of the air in the pleural cavity, the diagnosis is done to confirm the presence of air in the cavity. The small pneumothorax is hard to diagnose. Further, the diagnostic technique fails when the presence of air in the cavity is in such a position that it cannot be identified. The techniques used in the diagnosis of pneumothorax are as follows:

  • Erect chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Thoracic ultrasound
  • Digital imaging
  • Lateral X-rays.

Treatment for Non-Traumatic Pneumothorax

The treatment strategy depends upon the type of spontaneous pneumothorax present in the patient. Generally, the primary non-traumatic pneumothorax is well tolerated as compared to secondary non-traumatic pneumothorax as the disease is complicated by the underlying disease. Further, the primary non-traumatic pneumothorax responds well to the treatment as the secondary pneumothorax requires an additional treatment of the underlying respiratory disease. The patients with severe breathlessness require immediate medical care. Needle aspiration and chest tube insertion method is used to drain the excess air. Another method for treatment is pleurodesis but is only used when the patient is unfit for surgery or did not want to undergo surgery. Pleurodesis and surgery are used in patients with recurrent pneumothorax and when large amount of air is trapped in the pleural cavity.


Non-Traumatic pneumothorax or spontaneous pneumothorax is the condition in which the pleural cavity is filled with the air without any injury. The spontaneous pneumothorax can be primary or secondary and the treatment strategy is also decided on the basis of type of spontaneous pneumothorax. Diagnosis is done through various techniques and the treatment is done on the basis of amount of air and the complications due to underlying disease.

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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:August 19, 2019

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