A collapsed lung occurs when air gets inside the chest cavity (outside the lung) and creates pressure against the lung. Also known as pneumothorax, collapsed lung is a rare condition that may cause chest pain and make it hard to breathe. A collapsed lung requires immediate medical care.
A collapsed lung occurs when air enters the pleural space, the area between the chest wall and the lung. Air in the pleural space can build up and press against the lung, causing it to collapse partially or fully. Also called a deflated lung or pneumothorax, a collapsed lung needs immediate medical care.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
There are five main types of collapsed lung:
Pneumothorax has three main causes: medical conditions, injuries and lifestyle factors.
Medical conditions that may cause a collapsed lung include:
Injuries that may cause collapsed lung are:
Lifestyle factors associated with collapsed lung are:
People with certain other risk factors may be more likely to have a collapsed lung. These are:
A collapsed lung can have many signs and symptoms. If you have symptoms of a collapsed lung, go to the emergency room. You may need immediate care.
Signs of a collapsed lung include:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your history of lung disease and perform a physical exam. They may also measure the level of certain gases in your bloodstream. To measure gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide, a technician collects a blood sample and analyzes it in a lab.
Your treatment depends on the cause, size and severity of your pneumothorax. Collapsed lung treatment may include:
Observation: If your pneumothorax is minor, your provider may watch you for signs of heart or breathing problems. You will see your provider for a follow-up visit.
Supplemental oxygen: Your provider may give you extra oxygen if your pneumothorax is small but you have symptoms. Your provider watches to make sure your condition is stable.
Needle aspiration: During aspiration, a provider uses a syringe to remove some of the air in the pleural space. A provider may follow needle aspiration with percutaneous chest tube drainage.
Chest tube drainage: If you have a larger pneumothorax, your provider may put a hollow tube in your chest to reduce the air in the pleural space. As the air pressure decreases, the lung re-expands and heals. You may have this tube in place for a couple of days or longer.
Chemical pleurodesis: To prevent the lung from collapsing again, a provider may perform pleurodesis. Your provider makes an incision and inserts a tube. Then your provider uses chemicals (such as doxycycline or talc) to attach the lung to the chest cavity, eliminating extra space in the chest cavity.
Surgery: Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a small camera to help the surgeon remove lung tissue. Your surgeon may also perform a chemical pleurodesis or a mechanical pleurodesis using a piece of gauze to attach the lung to the chest cavity. You may be a candidate for surgery if you don’t respond to other treatment or have:
Although most collapsed lungs heal without problems, serious complications do occur. These can include:
If you have certain medical conditions or a family history of pneumothorax, you might not be able to prevent a collapsed lung.
Anyone can take steps to reduce your chances of collapsed lung:
Most people who have a collapsed lung generally heal without major treatment. If you’ve had a collapsed lung, you have a higher chance of having it again.
After treatment, you may be in the hospital for a couple of days or longer. This allows your provider to check your progress and give you oxygen, if necessary.
You will make an appointment for follow-up visits. You should contact your provider if symptoms of collapsed lung return.
Your provider will also recommend avoiding:
If you have a collapsed lung, ask your provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A collapsed lung is rare, but it can be serious. If you have signs or symptoms of a collapsed lung, such as chest pain or trouble breathing, get medical care right away. Your lung may be able to heal on its own, or you may need treatment to save your life. Your provider can determine the best form of treatment for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/11/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.