We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Pneumomediastinum?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Pneumomediastinum is a medical condition in which air escapes a lung and gets trapped in the chest cavity. It usually occurs when one of the tiny air sacs in a lung ruptures, releasing a small amount of air into the inner chest space called the mediastinum. Depending on the amount of air that escapes, pneumomediastinum can cause significant chest pains and shortness of breath. Most cases go away on their own, but a doctor may decide to manually suction air out of the chest if symptoms are severe.

Many different factors can lead to air buildup in the mediastinum. Air sacs in the lungs called alveoli may become irritated and punctured due to excessive pressure from a sneeze, cough, or hard laugh. Respiratory infections and asthma can increase the chances of an alveolar tear. In addition, direct trauma to the chest or throat can cause internal damage and lead to an air leak. Breathing in carcinogens from cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, and dust also contribute to lung damage and ruptures.

In most cases, pneumomediastinum is so mild that it does not cause physical symptoms or health complications. A doctor may only notice air buildup when a patient undergoes an exam for an unrelated condition. When symptoms are present, they usually include a chronic dull pain underneath the breastbone, radiating aches through the chest and shoulders, and moderate breathing difficulties. If a lung partially or fully collapses, sharp pains, chest tightness, and severe shortness of breath tend to occur. An individual who experiences any abnormal chest pains or breathing problems should visit a doctor or go to the emergency room.

A physician can check for pneumomediastinum and any underlying problems by performing a series of diagnostic imaging tests. X-rays can confirm the presence of air in the mediastinum, and computerized tomography scans can reveal physical lung abnormalities. A doctor may also decide to collect a blood sample to examine oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Treatment decisions are made based on the amount of escaped air present and the severity of the patient's symptoms.

Many cases of pneumomediastinum do not require medical care. Small alveolar or esophagus tears usually repair themselves within a few weeks, and excess air is reabsorbed by body tissue. If pain and chest tightness cause discomfort, a doctor may decide to insert a needle and chest tube to draw the air out of the mediastinum. Surgery may be necessary if a lung fully collapses to repair and reinforce damaged tissue. Following medical or surgical care, patients are encouraged to stop smoking, engage in regular exercise, and schedule periodic checkups to help prevent recurring lung problems.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.