Atelectasis

General Illness Information

Common Name: ATELECTASIS

Medical Term: None Specified

Description:

Collapse of part or all of one lung, preventing normal oxygen absorption.

Causes:

Obstruction of small or large lung air passages by: Thick mucus plugs from infection or other disease, including cystic fibrosis; Tumors in the air passages; Tumors or blood vessels outside the air passages, causing pressure on airways; Inhaled objects, such as small toys or peanuts; Prolonged chest or abdominal surgery with general anesthetic; Chest injury or fractured ribs; Penetrating wound.

Prevention:

Force coughing and deep breathing every 1 to 2 hours after surgery with general anesthesia. Also change position often in bed, if possible. Increase fluid intake during lung illness or after surgery by mouth or intravenously to keep lung secretions loose. Keep small objects that might be inhaled away from young children (peanuts are notorious).

Signs & Symptoms

Sudden, major collapse:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath; rapid breathing.
  • Shock (severe weakness, paleness of skin, rapid heart beat).
  • Dizziness.
  • Gradual collapse.
  • Cough.
  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • No other symptoms.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking.
  • Illness that has lowered resistance or weakened the patient.
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease, including emphysema and bronchiectasis.
  • Use of drugs that depress alertness or consciousness, such as sedatives, barbiturates, tranquilizers or alcohol.

Diagnosis & Treatment

General Measures:

  • Laboratory studies to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and X-rays of the chest.
  • Surgery to remove tumors.
  • Bronchoscopy to remove foreign objects or a mucus plug.
  • Cooperate with requests to turn, cough and breathe deeply after surgery. Hold a pillow tightly against surgical incisions during the coughing exercises.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Learn to perform postural drainage after hospitalization. An inhalation therapist, nurse or doctor can demonstrate the technique.
  • Additional information available from the American Lung Association, 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, (800) 586-4872, or The Canadian Lung Association www.lung.ca.

Medications:

  • An antibiotic to fight infection that inevitably accompanies atelectasis.
  • Pain relievers for minor pain.
  • Don’t take sedatives. They may contribute to a recurrence.

Activity:

Resume your normal activities as soon as symptoms improve.

Diet:

No special diet, but drink at least 8 glasses of water or other fluid daily to thin lung secretions.

Possible Complications :

  • Pneumonia.
  • Small lung abscess.
  • Permanent lung scars and collapsed lung tissue.

Prognosis

Atelectasis is seldom life threatening and usually resolves spontaneously. If atelectasis is caused by a mucus plug or inhaled foreign object, it is curable when the plug or object is removed. If it is caused by a tumor, the outcome depends on the nature of the underlying problem.