X Ray to Detect Atelectasis

by Sam Malone


Atelectasis is a medical condition that occurs when there is a partial or complete collapse of your lung. You may suffer from this problem when the small air sacs, known as the alveoli, within your lungs get deflated for any reason. Atelectasis of the lung has the tendency to reduce the amount of oxygen present in your body. This condition can be quite a serious problem, and therefore, it needs to be addressed by a doctor immediately. The treatment of lung atelectasis may vary, based on its severity and causes.

This condition can be broadly classified into two types - obstructive atelectasis, which occurs when there is a blockage in the airway and non-obstructive atelectasis, caused by pressure from outside the lung. Most of us have experienced this respiratory problem after undergoing a surgery in which anesthesia has been used. However, there are several other factors that could also lead to atelectasis, some of which include -

  • Accumulation of excessive fluid in the lungs
  • Chest injuries
  • Collection of excess mucus in the airways, usually after a surgery
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Inhaling foreign objects (especially common in children)
  • Narrowing of the airways, probably due to tuberculosis or fungal infections
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Scarring of the lung tissue
  • Severe asthma
  • Tumors in the lungs

While anyone can suffer from atelectasis, there are certain factors that increase the risks of this condition. Instances of this health problem are more likely to be seen in -

  • Children between the ages of 1 and 3
  • Elderly people with an impaired swallowing function
  • Individuals who cannot yawn, cough or sigh properly because of any reason
  • Obese or morbidly overweight people
  • Patients suffering from conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis
  • People who are bedridden and do not move around frequently
  • Premature babies, as their lungs are not fully developed

Many people only realize that they are suffering from atelectasis when they undergo a chest x ray for breathing problems or other respiratory conditions. This is because there are no specific signs and symptoms for the condition. Some of the symptoms you may experience in case of atelectasis include -

  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Severe coughing
  • Low grade fever
  • Chest pain
  • Increase in heartbeat

Most people get concerned when they experience breathing problems, chest pain and fast heartbeat and this causes them to visit a doctor. In such a situation, your doctor will conduct a physical exam, before asking you to undergo certain tests, like an x-ray, a CT scan or an ultrasound. Doctors usually detect the causes and severity of atelectasis through a chest x ray too.

The treatment path for atelectasis may vary, depending upon the diagnosis. At first, your doctor may prescribe medication and advise you to undergo chest physiotherapy. This includes -

  • Inhaled bronchodilators
  • Acetylcysteine
  • Percussion
  • Postural drainage
  • Coughing
  • Deep breathing

At times, the doctor may first treat the underlying cause of atelectasis, which cures the lung problem. However, in case medication therapy and physiotherapy do not treat the problem, you may need to undergo a surgical procedure known as bronchoscopy. In this surgery, a flexible tube is passed through your throat and the obstruction in the airways is removed.

There are also a few preventative steps you can take, to reduce the risks of atelectasis; these include -

  • Quit smoking: The habit of smoking or excessive exposure to cigarette smoke increases the production of mucus in your respiratory passages and damages your cilia. Your body will be able to get rid of mucus more effectively once you stop this habit.
  • Deep breathing: After you undergo a surgery, your doctor may show you a few deep breathing exercises that improve the functioning of your lungs. This could also include coughing.
  • Repositioning: In case you are on bed rest for an extended period of time, make it a point to change your position every hour or so. Sit up and walk about for a couple of minutes if your healthcare provider permits it.

These steps only reduce the risks of atelectasis.

References

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/atelectasis/DS01170


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