Pneumothorax in Infants

Pneumothorax is a serious lung condition in infants, more commonly seen in preterm infants and those with respiratory distress syndrome. Let us understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment of pneumothorax in infants.

A lung disorder of infants, pneumothorax is also known by the following names:

  • Pneumothorax in Newborns
  • Infantile Pneumothorax
  • Air Leak Syndrome in Infants

 What is Pneumothorax in Infants?

What Causes Pneumothorax in Infants?

The causes of pneumothorax in infants can be multiple and owing to the young age and weaker immune system. The following are the possible causes of pneumothorax which can affect the infant severely:

  • One of the common cause of pneumothorax is aspiration of meconium, which is the first bowel movement of child. It is also known as meconium aspiration syndrome, which can severely affect the lungs.
  • Surfactants are normally required to keep the air sacs in the lungs open to ensure proper lung functioning and prevention of infections. In preterm infants, the development of surfactants gets stunted, causing lung collapse. This is another common cause of pneumothorax in infants, particularly preterm infants.
  • Use of breathing ventilator can lead to an increase in pressure within the lungs and this makes the air sacs to burst open. This too can cause lung collapse and cause pneumothorax in infants.

What Causes Pneumothorax in Infants?

Respiratory distress syndrome occurring in preterm infants is an important cause of pneumothorax in infants.

Pneumothorax in infants is caused by some genetic factors as well. In many other conditions and respiratory complications, there are chances of lung collapse and air escape from lungs, which can be a cause of pneumothorax in infants.

The chances of pneumothorax in infants can be high due to its occurrence in the past and can be classified in the four types:

  • Iatrogenic pneumothorax, caused due to faulty surgical procedures
  • Primary spontaneous pneumothorax, occurring due to previous lung disease
  • Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax, history of acute lung damage
  • Traumatic pneumothorax, caused by wound.

Symptoms of Pneumothorax in Infants

Pneumothorax in infants, which is a result of bursting or collapsing of lungs can lead to various signs and symptoms, which often need to be treated at the earliest.
The following symptoms of pneumothorax in infants are commonly noted:

  • A rapid increase in the heart rate and pulse which may seem to be quite abnormal.
  • An abnormal breathing that leads to weakness, is often seen in pneumothorax in infants.
  • Infant becomes quite restless, cries frequently and gets irritated easily.
  • Breathing problem leads to distress which can be severe or mild.
  • Reduced amount of oxygen can cause bluish discoloration of skin (cyanosis) as well as of nails and tongue. This is an important symptom of pneumothorax in infants and one of the vital signs to be noted.
  • Flaring of nostrils, breathing difficulty, use of accessory muscles to breathe, tightening of the neck muscles and signs of severe distress are the commonest symptoms in pneumothorax in infants.

Sometimes pneumothorax in infants may not show any obvious symptoms but change in breathing pattern may be the only symptom, which should grab attention of the caretakers.

Treating Pneumothorax in Infants

The lungs can get severely affected by infection and hence need immediate treatment for pneumothorax in infants. Breathing patterns are studied by auscultation and further tests are done, if required. Arterial blood gas analysis and physical examination are done to find the severity of the infection. Appropriate investigations like scans and advanced tests are performed to confirm the severity and plan the right treatment for pneumothorax in infants.

Treatment for pneumothorax in infants includes the following:

  • Thoracotomy.The pleural space is inserted with fine needle and the accumulated air is removed. This is done when the infant shows the signs of breathing distress.
  • Supplemental oxygen is given to the child to remove any kind of complication related with breathing. Owing to decreased oxygen supply, the supplement is given to avoid breathing problems.

Removal of air from lungs with thoracotomy is quite effective and the results for managing pneumothorax in infants are positive. In place of needle, catheter is also used and if the child is suffering from a mild form of infection, then least medications are given.

In case, the situation is left untreated or there is a delay in the treatment, then drop in blood pressure may occur. This can endanger the functioning of the heart and is often treated as a medical emergency.

If the infant has a preterm birth then monitoring becomes essential to prevent complications. Appropriate care, measures to prevent infections and vaccinations should be given to prevent lung infections and respiratory problems in infants.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: July 12, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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