Mild Atelectasis

by Garreth Myers

Lungs ensure that your body gets the oxygen it needs to function. You inhale air and the air sacs in the lungs fill with this air. The oxygen in the air passes through the capillaries which are present in the walls of the air sacs. While the oxygen enters the bloodstream, the carbon dioxide from the body enters the lungs through the capillaries and is exhaled out.

When lungs do not function at their best, organs start to get affected because of the decrease in oxygen being supplied. Atelectasis is the condition when the lungs do not work efficiently. Atelectasis is also known as a collapsed lung or partially collapsed lung. When a lung collapses, even partially, it affects the quality of oxygen that is carried to various organs.

If the lungs are affected marginally, this condition is called mild dependent atelectasis. Mild dependent often does not affect the quality of life. If the condition is minor, though the lungs are damaged, it does not affect the quality of life. When the condition is not that severe, you might not even feel the symptoms. In case the atelectasis is severe, then the organs tend to be deprived of oxygen and it can lead to further complications.

Mild subsegmental atelectasis is a form of atelectasis where the left lobe of the lungs gets affected. In this type, linear fissures appear on the lung and are visible under chest X-rays. The prognosis of atelectasis depends on the cause. In adults, it is usually temporary and resolves itself once the condition causing the atelectasis heals. If the lungs remain deflated for a longer duration, it might become difficult for the lungs to clear themselves of mucus. That delay could lead to infections like pneumonia.

Atelectasis in children or babies can prove fatal, especially if it affects a large part of the lungs. People with lung diseases like emphysema can also be easily affected with atelectasis.


Coughing and deep breathing is considered a preventive measure for atelectasis. Therefore any condition that does not let you breathe deeply or even cough to clear mucus can lead to atelectasis.

Often atelectasis occurs after other illnesses or procedures. For instance, atelectasis can occur after a surgery. Medications or pain after abdominal surgery discourage you from taking deep breaths or even coughing. In such times, lungs are quite likely to deflate.

Other causes include:

  • Breathing with the help of a ventilator
  • Pressure outside the lung like a tumour or a growth pressing against the lung, a bone deformity or a build up of fluid between the ribs and the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Lung disorders like respiratory distress syndrome, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis and in rare cases, even asthma
  • A physical obstruction like inhaling a peanut or a poorly placed ventilator tube

If you suffer from any of these conditions, you are at risk for atelectasis. This risk will get exacerbated if you are a smoker and are obese.


Shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, restlessness and in more extreme cases lips and skin turning blue are all symptoms. If the lung area that has collapsed is small, there might be no symptoms. In children, anxiety and getting agitated is an important symptom.

This condition is diagnosed with the help a physical examination. Doctors might also do procedures like a chest CT scan, bronchoscopy, or even a chest X ray.

The condition is treated based on what is causing the condition. If the pressure on the lungs is due to cause on the outside like a growth or blockage, that condition is addressed. Removing the cause often helps the atelectasis go away.



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