Fibrosis Atelectasis

by Sam Malone
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When you inhale air, the oxygen passes into the bloodstream through the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs, while carbon dioxide is passed back to the lungs in a similar process, to be exhaled. There is a condition when parts of lung or alveoli can collapse and not help in the gas exchange. This condition is called atelectasis.

Typically this condition is caused by not breathing properly or an injury or illness. When a small portion of the lung weakens, it collapses. If this area is small, it does not always affect the functioning of lungs. When a large part of the lung collapses or atelectasis occurs in small children or infants, it tends to be more dangerous.  Complications can include pneumonia or even result in fatalities.  

Atelectasis is usually of two types:

  • Acute Atelectasis: This form of atelectasis occurs when the lung has collapsed recently. This recent collapse leads to airlessness. If the area is small then it is not immediately noticed.
  • Chronic Atelectasis: This form of atelectasis occurs when the patient has been suffering from a collapsed lung and is also dealing with other complications that include difficulty breathing, infection, widening of the bronchi or bronchiectasis and scarring of tissue or fibrosis.
Bronchi are the tubes that branch out from the trachea into lung tissue. Blockages in the bronchi can also result in widening of the bronchi. These blockages can occur due to inhaling a foreign object or a mucus plug or even a tumor.

Fibrosis is primarily scarring of the lung tissue. If a patient has been suffering from atelectasis then the resulting complications can result in fibrosis. Fibrosis is tissue that heals. Though the scarring heals, the scars remain in the tissue. This scarring further prevents the atelectasis from healing.

Signs and symptoms of atelectasis can vary depending on how serious the condition is. Symptoms of atelectasis can vary from breathlessness to fatigue, anxiety and even the skin turning blue due to sustained decrease in oxygen levels. Low grade fever is also known to a symptom of atelectasis.

This condition is primarily caused by other existing conditions like surgery especially abdominal surgery. Surgery or pain medications prevent the patient from taking deep breaths or even coughing. The lack of deep breaths and inability to cough can cause some air sacs to not inflate properly, leading to atelectasis. Almost anyone who undergoes surgery of any kind faces some degree of atelectasis from anesthesia.

Other causes include accumulation of mucus. This accumulation occurs because the patient is unable to cough due to a physical impairment. Blood clots or tumors in major air paths can also result in atelectasis. Some diseases like tuberculosis and fungal infections also cause the narrowing of pathways leading to restriction of air sacs inflation.

Causes like chest trauma, pleural effusion or pneumonia can also lead to atelectasis. If you are obese or a smoker, you are more likely to suffer from atelectasis and its complications. Young children and premature babies are more prone to this condition. Any long term recovery or injury increases your chances of suffering from some degree of atelectasis.  

The prognosis of atelectasis depends on the cause. This condition 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. Deep breathing exercises and deliberate coughing can help your lungs function at optimum capacity. If you are recovering from surgery, try to cough deliberately as often as you can without opening your wounds. It could act as a preventive step.

Reference:
  1. http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000065.htm
  2. http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Collapsed-Lung-Atelectasis.aspx
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