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Collapsed Lung

A collapsed lung occurs when air enters the space between the lung and the chest wall in the pleural space. A total collapse is called a pneumothorax. A partial collapse is called atelectasis.

A collapsed lung can occur as the result of an injury to the lung. In some cases, a collapsed lung is caused by air blisters (blebs) that break open, sending air into the space around the lung. This can result from air pressure changes such as when scuba diving or traveling to a high altitude.

Tall, thin people and smokers are more at risk for a collapsed lung.

Some lung diseases increase the chance of getting a collapsed lung. These include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Whooping cough

Note: This condition requires emergency care. Please visit an emergency room immediately if you suspect you may have a collapsed lung.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of a collapsed lung include:

  • Sharp chest or shoulder pain, made worse by a deep breath or a cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal flaring (from shortness of breath)

A larger pneumothorax causes more severe symptoms, including:

  • Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen
  • Chest tightness
  • Lightheadedness and near fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal breathing patterns or increased effort of breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shock and collapse


A Deborah physician will listen to the patient’s breathing with a stethoscope. If a lung is collapsed, the doctor will hear decreased breath sounds or no breath sounds on the affected side. Blood pressure can also be lower than normal.

Other tests that may be ordered include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Arterial blood gases and other blood tests
  • CT scan 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)