Linear Atelectasis

by Garreth Myers


Linear Atelectasis is said to occur when a portion of the lungs away from the bronchus has collapsed. And the collapsed portion is linear in that it is all joined together.

Atelectasis or collapse of the lung tissue is not as dangerous as it sounds. Atelectasis happens all the time in people when the alveoli or the air sacs of the lungs do not inflate properly. When this happens, oxygen cannot be absorbed into the blood in those portions of the lung that have been affected.

While this sounds really dangerous, it's actually much more common than you would think. The air sacs are like small bags that open and close and there is always a likelihood that the sacks will not open properly sometimes. Usually this is not too dangerous because the rest of the lung can compensate for the portion that is affected. It is only when the area affected becomes large that it becomes a problem.

What are the Causes of Linear Atelectasis in the Lung?

The basic cause for atelectasis is a blockage in the wind pipe. This blockage can be due to any reasons starting from a blockage within the pipe itself (such as mucus), from the wall of the wind pipe (such as with a tumor), or even from the outside pressing down on a portion of the lung (such as with fluid buildup between the rib cage and the lungs). Even foreign bodies when they enter the lungs, can block the passage of air and cause the air sacs to collapse.

Other times, not breathing deeply (such as with prolonged bed rest or shallow breathing) will cause a portion of the lungs to collapse. This is why breathing deeply and coughing are considered one of the best remedies for atelectasis.

Why is Atelectasis Dangerous?

In most cases the body involuntarily precipitates a cough to clear out the air passages. Whether it is just phlegm or a foreign body, the cough will clear it out of the passage and restore proper functioning to the lungs.

Sometimes, however, the body is unable to do this, such as after a surgery when either because of medication or because of pain, a person refrains from coughing. This will cause a portion of the lung to collapse. In fact, post-surgical atelectasis is the most common kind of atelectasis. Usually, once the cause is removed, the lungs will soon fill up with air and its functionality restored.

The only problem is when the lungs collapse and this is not treated immediately. For example, a chest cold will cause portions of the lungs to collapse, but usually coughing will keep the air passages clear. When this is not done for some reason, there is a chance that the collapsed portion can get infected which in turn can cause other problems such as pneumonia.

What is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for most kinds of atelectasis is good. Most minor cases are not even identified as they do not cause any symptoms at all. In other cases, the body will itself find a way to clear the block and restore free flow of air.

It is only when the cause of the atelectasis is not normal, such as when there is a tumor or a lymph node that has swollen up so much as to block air passages does it become a serious threat.

This can lead to problems both from the tumor as well as from the subsidiary infections that will infect the collapsed portion of the lung. In some cases these infections can become serious as to be life threatening.

Even if there is no subsidiary infections, there is always the possibility that if left untreated it can become permanent. If you have chronic shortness of breath or chest pain, make sure that you get yourself checked.

References

  1. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl/
  2. http://www.aic.cuhk.edu.hk/web8/Very%20BASIC%20CXR%20lungs.htm
  3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000065.htm

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