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Pneumothorax is the medical term for a collapsed lung, a serious condition that requires medical treatment. While a patient in many non-emergency cases can have a say in choosing treatment, it is always important to strongly consider the advice of a doctor or medical professional. Medical professionals generally consider several factors, including the type of pneumothorax, the extent to which the lung has collapsed and whether the person responds to initial treatment and/or has had a collapsed lung before.
There are two main types of pneumothorax: tension and simple pneumothorax. Tension pneumothorax occurs when pressure builds up in the chest and eventually compresses and completely collapses one or both lungs. Due to the fact that the pressure build up can affect the lungs and heart, this is generally considered an emergency situation and requires immediate medical attention.
Experts often recommend the insertion of a chest tube as the best choice of pneumothorax treatment in this case. To insert a chest tube, a health-care provider normally first inserts a needle into the chest cavity to relieve pressure quickly and then inserts a flexible, thin tube between the chest wall and the lungs to allow for continuing pressure relief and, ideally, re-inflation of the lung.
A simple pneumothorax usually involves less pressure in the thoracic cavity and only collapses part of a lung. In some cases, the affected lung may have only collapsed a small amount, meaning the pressure build up is not at risk of affecting the heart. Health-care providers often suggest supplemental oxygen and/or careful watchful waiting as the best pneumothorax treatment in this situation, as the lung often has a good chance of re-inflating on its own. In situations where simple pneumothorax has caused the lung to collapse more than 20%, the recommended treatment is typically the insertion of a needle or full chest tube to remove pressure in the chest cavity.
Certain people may experience a collapsed lung that does not respond to initial treatment, or they may have multiple episodes of pneumothorax over a lifetime. In these cases, surgery may be suggested as the best choice of pneumothorax treatment. Surgery can often help by closing up areas of the lung that are actively leaking air and/or attaching the lung to chest wall to prevent future collapses.
If surgery is not possible in one of these cases, the recommended pneumothorax treatment is often the administration of a chemical into the space created by the chest tube. This is designed to help seal any leaks in the lung and promote the formation of scar tissue to adhere the lung to the chest wall.