What Are the Different Causes of Pneumothorax?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2018
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A rib fracture, trauma to the chest, or certain lung diseases are all typical causes of pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung. Scuba diving, smoking, and flying are all non-medical causes of pneumothorax. Some cases of a collapsed lung have no discernible cause. When air leaks into the chest wall, the pressure on the lungs can make them collapse, although usually only a portion of the organ is affected. Symptoms include trouble breathing and chest pain that comes on suddenly.

There are many possible causes of pneumothorax,but the most common are chest trauma and specific lung diseases like emphysema, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. People with lung cancer, cystic and pulmonary fibrosis, or sarcoidosis are also at increased risk of developing a collapsed lung. Asthma and chronic bronchitis are also causes of pneumothorax. This is because lung tissue that is damaged by disease is more susceptible to collapse.

Chest injury and certain medical procedures that affect the chest area are additional possible causes of pneumothorax. A lung biopsy, chest tube insertion, and insertion of a scope into the lung can all inadvertently result in a pneumothorax. Performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation is another way to injure and potentially collapse a person’s lung.


Any kind of chest trauma can result in pneumothorax. Typical examples include wounds from knives or guns. Anyone in a car accident in which the air bags deploy may also suffer from a collapsed lung as a result. A fractured rib can puncture and collapse a lung as well. In some cases, pneumothorax is caused by a blow to the chest during a fight or physical assault.

Some activities can put people at a greater risk of developing a collapsed lung. This is because blebs, or tiny air blisters, form on some people’s lungs and can burst due to air pressure changes. Tall and thin people in particular tend to develop blebs, although it is not understood why. These blebs can rupture from scuba diving or hiking at high altitudes. Blebs can also burst when people fly in airplanes.

The symptoms of a collapsed lung depend on the severity. Most people with pneumothorax experience acute chest pain and have trouble breathing. A more severe pneumothorax can cause the skin to turn blue from decreased oxygen, chest tightness, and fatigue. Some people may also develop nasal flaring and hypotension. Not smoking can decrease the risk of pneumothorax, although there is no way to prevent this condition altogether.

A chest x-ray is usually all that is necessary to diagnose a pneumothorax. When only a small area of the lung collapses, it is possible that it will heal rapidly without medical intervention. The body will absorb the air and the lung will re-expand, requiring only monitoring via x-ray and bed rest. In more severe cases, a doctor may remove the air with a needle and syringe or chest tube attached to a suction device. An emergency situation can require surgical intervention because the collapsed lung can affect cardiovascular function and result in death.



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