Hey it’s Dr. Parker again and in this post I want to talk about the pneumothorax.

(pronounce: new-mo thor-axe)

Say WHAT?!

Yea, that’s what it’s called. “Pneumo” means “air” and “thorax” means “chest”. So, it’s air in the chest. I know what you are probably saying….isn’t air SUPPOSED to be in the chest? Well….yes and no. Let me explain.

The chest obviously protects a few different organs (like the heart, esophagus and some major blood vessels), as well as the lungs. The lungs are a spongey type of tissue. They are made up of millions of little tiny air sacs. These air sacs have little tiny blood vessels in the walls. The air that we breath in, goes into the air sacs and the oxygen in the air can go into the little tiny blood vessels in the walls of the little tiny sacs. The oxygen is then carried to the rest of the body’s tissues through the blood.

So that’s more or less how the lungs work….but how do they fit in this whole “pneumothorax” thing? Well, the lungs usually take up the entire space of the chest on the left and right where the other organs don’t live. The chest actually has a NEGATIVE pressure compared to the outside air. This negative pressure makes it so the lung can easily expand the entire volume of the chest. The lung lives right up against the inside of the chest wall and ribs.

But sometimes, when the lung is injured somehow, air can escape front he lung, into the chest cavity. So the air is now outside of the lung, but still inside of the chest. THIS is a PNEUMOTHORAX.

There are a couple of different kinds of pneumothorax. The two main ones to differentiate from are the simple pneumothorax and the tension pneumothorax.

The simple pneumothorax means that air is outside of the lung, still inside of the chest, but really is not causing the patient any discomfort or problems with breathing or blood pressure.

The TENSION pneumothorax is the bad kind. This means the air outside of the lung, and inside of the chest cavity is causing compression of the lung. Remember, the lung is a spongey like consistency, and it’s very weak and easy to compress. So the pressure from the air outside of the lung and inside the chest cavity causes the lung to collapse. This can cause someone to have severe shortness of breath and the blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels. If left long enough, a tension pneumothorax can be deadly. But the good news is, most emergency medical personnel (EMTs, ER doctors and Trauma Surgeons) are trained to catch a tension pneumothorax with only a physical exam so treatment can be instituted as rapidly as possible.

Well, I hope this helped you to understand what it means when people talk about a “collapsed lung”, it’s sometimes difficult to understand, but hopefully we’ve provided you with some good visuals to clear things up.

Talk to you later,

-Dr. Buck

P.S. Please leave questions or comments below. Thanks!








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