Collapsed lung is a collective term used to describe two separate conditions, pneumothorax and atelectasis, that trigger partial or total deflation of your lung’s oxygen-carrying structures. If you have an atelectasis, deflation occurs in the tiny air sacs in your lungs called alveoli. Your doctor may recommend specialized deep breathing exercises as part of your treatment for this condition.
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A pneumothorax develops when air buildup between your chest wall and your lungs puts undue pressure on a lung and prevents you from drawing a normal breath. Potential causes for this condition include spontaneous rupture of small air-filled areas of your lungs called blebs, smoking, scuba diving and traumatic injuries such as broken ribs, gunshots and knife wounds. Common causes of the alveoli deflation associated with atelectasis include severe asthma, chest injuries, mucus buildup following surgery, inhalation of foreign objects and cystic fibrosis.
Deep Breathing Exercises
If you experience an atelectasis, your doctor may ask you to perform deep breathing exercises with the help of a device called an incentive spirometer, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. These devices require you to use the force of your breath to slowly raise the level of an indicator held inside a vertical, sealed tube. After the indicator reaches a certain height inside the tube, you will hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale and let the indicator drop back down. Typically, your doctor will tailor the specifics of these exercises — including the height the indicator must reach and the number and frequency of the repetitions you perform—to your particular medical circumstances.
Medline Plus lists additional treatments for an atelectasis that include clapping your chest to loosen mucus, opening your airways with aerosolized medication, tilting your head below your lungs to encourage mucus draining, lying on your unaffected side to give your lung a chance to re-inflate and using devices that increase the pressure in your airways and help clear out any accumulated fluids. Potential treatments for a pneumothorax include rest, administration of oxygen, placement of a chest tube and surgery.
Most adults with a partial atelectasis can successfully compensate for the temporary loss of airflow, Medline Plus notes. However, a large atelectasis can be life-threatening in young children, babies and individuals with pre-existing lung problems. In most cases, your lung will re-inflate after any blockages are cleared; nonetheless, scarring or other forms of damage associated with a collapse may permanently limit your lung capacity. Some individuals also develop rapid-onset pneumonia in the aftermath of an atelectasis. Consult your doctor for more information.