Pneumothorax, often referred to as a collapsed lung, happens when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall, applying pressure on the lung. This condition can cause the lung to collapse partially or entirely. While minor cases may resolve independently, severe instances can pose a significant risk to life. Pneumothorax can develop spontaneously or result from various causes such as existing health issues, trauma, or medical interventions. Symptoms including abrupt chest pain, breathing difficulties, or a bluish tint to the skin should prompt immediate medical intervention. Treatment typically involves the insertion of a chest tube or needle between the ribs to remove the excess air.


The signs and symptoms of pneumothorax can vary based on the extent to which the lung has collapsed. It may include:

  • Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing
  • Abrupt onset of chest discomfort
  • Chest pain on one side, especially when breathing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Cough
  • Rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis, or lips, nails, or skin that is bluish
  • Fatigue

If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Should you experience severe chest pain or difficulty breathing that worsens over time, it’s critical to seek immediate medical attention.

For those with a previous history of a collapsed lung (pneumothorax), it’s vital to promptly seek medical help if symptoms reemerge or deteriorate, indicating a potential for recurrence and increased risk.


There are several factors that can cause pneumothorax, such as:

  • Injuries: Injuries such as blunt force trauma, gunshot or stab wounds can result in pneumothorax. Certain injuries may be unintentionally sustained during medical procedures that require the introduction of a needle into the chest, while other injuries may result from physical assaults or vehicle accidents. Lung collapse can result from any blunt or piercing injury to the chest.
  • Mechanical ventilation: This is a type of life support that assists individuals in breathing when they are unable to do so independently. The chest’s air pressure may become unbalanced as a result of the ventilator which can lead to a total lung collapse. A severe kind of pneumothorax typically occur in these cases.
  • Lung disease: Conditions, like lymphangioleiomyomatosis and Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, can create fragile air sacs in the lungs that can burst, leading to pneumothorax. Various diseases like COPD, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, or pneumonia can cause lung tissue damage leading to a higher risk of a collapsed lung.
  • Air blisters that ruptured: Air may seep into the area around the lungs when air blisters or blebs burst. Blebs, or tiny air sacs can form on the surface of the lungs.

Risk factors

Several factors may contribute to one’s risk of developing pneumothorax, such as:

  • Age: People between the ages of 20 and 40 are most prone to experience a type of pneumothorax particularly if they are extremely tall and underweight.
  • Gender: Pneumothoraxes are often much more common in men than in women.
  • Genetics: Individuals with a higher risk of experiencing a collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, include those with a family history of the condition. Some types of the condition runs in families.
  • Smoking: Even in the absence of emphysema, the risk rises with the amount of time and cigarettes smoked.
  • History of pneumothorax: A person’s risk of experiencing another pneumothorax is elevated after one.
  • Underlying conditions or treatment: Those diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, endometriosis, certain lung disease, and under mechanical ventilation has an increased risk of acquiring pneumothorax.