What Is The Difference Between Pneumothorax and Atelectasis?

There are several lung diseases which interfere with the normal functionality of the lungs. Pneumothorax and atelectasis are the most common pulmonary diseases associated with the collapse of part or all of a lung. In many occurrences of lung ailments, because they are associated with respiration, breathing problems are imminent. You can easily tell if you have a lung problem if you experience shortness of breath, difficulties coughing or coughing a lot as well as wheezing. In addition to that, they also affect the supply of oxygen into the bloodstream since the lungs are deprived of enough oxygen. There are many differences between the two illnesses including how they manifest, their signs and symptoms and treatment methodology. Pneumothorax and atelectasis are life-threatening lung problems that should not be assumed as they can lead to further severe consequences.

What is Pneumothorax?

Pneumothorax refers to the presence of air in the pleural cavity. This is usually a result of a punctured pleural lining, which covers the lungs and protects it from foreign bodies. Air in the pleural cavity builds up over time and the resulting effect is a collapsed lung. If the causative factor of pneumothorax is unknown, then it is referred to as spontaneous pneumothorax.

What is Atelectasis?

Atelectasis is a lung condition that is characterized by the collapse of a part or the entire lung. The collapse of the lobes of a lung is linked to blockage or pressure on the bronchial tubes which constrict the air passageways. This, in turn leads to trapping of air which and the lungs are unable to inflate properly. The air sacs (alveoli), inside the lungs, also do not function properly.

What Is The Difference Between Pneumothorax and Atelectasis?

What Is The Difference Between Pneumothorax and Atelectasis?

Pneumothorax and atelectasis are both pulmonary disorders associated with the collapse of a lung or a part of it. That is as far as the similarities between the two diseases go. When it comes to the differences, they include several factors put into consideration. They have different causes, different ways of treating them, a slight difference in symptoms and how they manifest in a patient. Another important thing to note is that while pneumothorax can cause atelectasis, conversely, atelectasis cannot cause pneumothorax. In all that, the key difference noted between pneumothorax and atelectasis is the presence or absence of air in the pleural cavity.

  • Atelectasis is common in people who have undergone surgery. Pneumothorax is common in patients who have had a chest injury.
  • Atelectasis occurs due to blockage of the air passage by foreign objects, pleural effusions, tumors or mucus plugs. Pressure from outside the lungs can also lead to atelectasis. Pneumothorax occurs due to a fractured rib or injury of the chest wall by a sharp object. Can also be caused by damage to the lungs due to lung diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, ruptured cysts and esophagus perforation.
  • Pneumothorax is one of the main causes of lung collapse. Meaning, pneumothorax can cause atelectasis. However, pneumothorax cannot trigger the development of atelectasis.
  • In pneumothorax, patients exhibit the following symptoms; chest pains, dry cough, and breathlessness. On the other hand, patients with atelectasis show symptoms such as coughing, dyspnea, chest pains (sometimes), and fever.
  • Under a CT scan or X-ray, the results in pneumothorax show a shift of the trachea to the opposite side whereas the results in atelectasis show a shift of the windpipe to the side of the affected lung.
  • Other than CT scans and X-rays which are common methods for diagnosis both pneumothorax and atelectasis, atelectasis can also be investigated using an oximetry, physical and gas test examinations. On the other hand, pneumothorax can only be diagnosed using the two common methods.
  • Atelectasis caused by blockage can be treated by a bronchoscopy to remove the obstruction. Chest physiotherapy is also advised i.e. the deep breathing and coughing, to help clear airway of the obstruction. For pneumothorax, a doctor may puncture the chest so as to expel air from the pleural cavity. Alternatively, a surgical procedure may be performed to close the air leak.

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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:January 19, 2019

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