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Atelectasis

(Collapsed Lung)

Definition

Atelectasis is a collapse of the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. It may occur in a portion of the lung, or in the entire lung. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs and is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The lungs expand and contract to create the exchange of these gases.
Atelectasis is not a disease, but a condition or sign that results from disease or abnormalities in the lungs.
The Lungs (Cut-away View)
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Causes

Atelectasis is caused by a:
Blockage may be caused by:
Reduced amounts of surfactant may be caused by:

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance for atelectasis include:

Symptoms

Atelectasis may or may not cause symptoms. Small areas of collapse are less likely than larger areas to cause symptoms. Major atelectasis decreases the amount of oxygen available throughout the body.
Symptoms that may occur if a large area has collapsed include:

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This may include listening to your lungs for changes in the normal sounds.
Your body structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Other tests may be needed to confirm or rule out the cause of the atelectasis.

Treatment

Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause and maintaining enough air supply. The collapsed lung usually expands after the underlying cause has been corrected. Mild atelectasis often goes away on its own without treatment.
Treatments include:

Physical Therapy

The therapist uses different techniques to help clear mucus from the lung. You will be positioned so that gravity helps secretions flow out of the body. When resting in bed, lie on the unaffected side to promote drainage from the lung area that has collapsed. Moving around will also help clear your lungs.

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy may include any or all of the following:
  • Breathing masks or treatments to help keep your airways open
  • Incentive spirometry to help you learn to take deeper breaths
  • Suction to help remove secretions
  • A breathing machine, called a ventilator, if you are unable to breathe adequately on your own

Medication

Your doctor may recommend:
  • Medications to open the airways
  • Medications or therapy to treat the health condition that caused the collapse
  • Antibiotics to treat an infection
  • Oxygen, if you are having trouble breathing

Bronchoscopy

Bronchoscopy may be used to remove a foreign body or mucus that is blocking the airway.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of atelectasis, take these steps.

RESOURCES

American Lung Association http://www.lung.org

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The Canadian Lung Association http://www.lung.ca

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Explore atelectasis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl. Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed December 19, 2014.

Spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 31, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014.

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