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Signs & Symptoms of a Collapsed Lung

author image Doug Hewitt
Doug Hewitt has been writing for over 20 years and has a Master of Arts from University of North Carolina-Greensboro. He authored the book "The Practical Guide to Weekend Parenting," which includes health and fitness hints for parents. He and his wife, Robin, are coauthors of the "Free College Resource Book."
Signs & Symptoms of a Collapsed Lung
A man clutching his chest in pain while holding a wall for support. Photo Credit: pixelheadphoto/iStock/Getty Images

A collapsed lung is a condition called pneumothorax. The condition of a collapsed lung occurs when air gets into the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This air leaks from the lung and creates pressure against the lung. This pressure can cause the lung to collapse. The lung can partially or completely collapse, depending on the nature of the air leak and how much pressure is applied to the lung.

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Signs and Symptoms

A collapsed lung has signs and symptoms that include chest pain that is sharp and sudden. This pain occurs on the side of the chest with the lung that is collapsed. This pain does not extend to the center of the chest. Another symptom is shortness of breath. The severity of the shortness of breath depends on the extent to which the lung has collapsed. A rapid heart rate and a feeling of tightness in the chest are also symptoms of a collapsed lung.


The severity of the signs and symptoms of a collapsed lung depend on whether or not the lung has partially or completely collapsed. If there is only a small amount of air between the lung and the chest wall, there could be few signs and symptoms. Even if there is only a small amount of air, chest pain and a slight shortness of breath will probably occur. The shortness of breath can improve over time even if there is no change in the size of the collapse of the lung.


In one type of collapsed lung called a tension pneumothorax, complications can include low blood oxygen levels, a condition called hypoxemia, which can disrupt basic functions of the body and be life threatening. Cardiac arrest is another potential complication of this specific type of collapsed lung. Respiratory failure and shock can also result from tension pneumothorax.

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