Treatment for Pneumothorax

The aim of any treatment for pneumothorax is to reduce the pressure on the lungs and prevent it from collapsing. Pneumothorax treatment also helps re-expand the lungs and prevents recurring collapses in the future. Your doctor will decide on the correct course of treatment depending on your overall health and fitness levels as well as the severity of the lung collapse. Treatment for pneumothorax includes:

Observation: In many mild cases of pneumothorax, only a small portion of the lungs may collapse. In such situations, your doctor may simply observe your condition with the help of a series of x-rays of the chest. Most times, with the proper bed rest and avoidance of any form of exertion, the lung will re-expand on its own. In case it’s necessary, supplementary oxygen may be administered to improve the absorption process. Aspiration of air, through a catheter to a vacuum bottle, may also re-expand the lung.

Needle or Chest Tube Insertion: In cases where a larger area of the lung has collapsed, a needle or chest tube will be inserted into the chest cavity to remove the extra air. This is a special hollowed out tube or needle that is attached to a syringe to remove the extra air. It is inserted in between the ribs and reduces the pressure on the collapsed lung.

Chest tubes are often attached to a suction device that operates continuously and mechanically removes the air from the chest cavity. This machine can be operated for several hours to a few days at a time until all the extra air is removed. If a machine is being used to remove extra air, you may need to spend some time in hospital. If the doctor is merely using a syringe or normal test tube to remove the extra air, you will most likely be allowed to return home immediately after the procedure.

These procedures are not without their own set of risks and complications. Chest tube insertions may lead to infections of the pleural space in the lungs, excessive bleeding, accumulation of fluid in the lungs, and low blood pressure.

Surgery (Thoracoscopy): If all other procedures fail, surgery may be necessary to stop the leakage of air. Ideally, the surgery will be performed using special microscopic instruments and surgical tools. A fiber-optic camera will search the surface of the lungs for the ruptured bleb or air sac and the surgeon will then suture the area. In cases where the source of air leakage is not visible, a talc-like substance is blown around the lung. This causes the tissues to stick together and seal the entire area of any leaks.

Another procedure known as “pleurodesis” uses a chemical injection to fuse the walls of the chest and lung together and stop any leakage. Thanks to developments in surgical technology, in very rare cases, will larger incisions be needed to access bigger air leaks.