Air around the lung

Air around the lung


A pneumothorax is collection of air or gas in the space surrounding the lungs.

Alternative Names

Air around the lung; Air outside the lung


Pneumothorax may result from chest trauma, excessive pressure on the lungs, or an underlying lung disease such as  COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. In some cases, the cause is unclear.

See also spontaneous pneumothorax, traumatic pneumothorax, and tension pneumothorax


  • Sudden sharp chest pain, made worse by a deep breath or a cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Easy fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Bluish color of the skin caused by lack of oxygen

Note: Symptoms may begin during rest or sleep.

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

  • Nasal flaring
  • Anxiety, stress, and tension
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure )

Exams and Tests

Stethoscope examination of the chest reveals decreased or absent breath sounds on the affected side.

Tests include:

  • Chest x-ray to determine presence of air outside the lung
  • Arterial blood gases


Small pneumothoraces may go away on their own.

Larger pneumothoraces require the removal of air from around the lung. A chest tube (chest tube insertion ) placed between the ribs into space surrounding the lungs helps clear the air and allows the lung to re-expand. This may take several days (the chest tube is left in place). The patient must stay in the hospital while the chest tube is in place.

Supplemental oxygen may be needed to help air around the lung be reabsorbed more quickly.

Surgery may be needed to prevent recurrent episodes.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Up to 50% of patients who have a pneumothorax will have another, but there are no long-term complications following successful therapy.

Possible Complications

  • Recurrent pneumothorax
  • Tension pneumothorax with shock

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms of pneumothorax develop, especially if you have previously experienced this condition.


There is no known prevention, other than to decrease risk by stopping smoking.

Murray J, Nadel J. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2000. 

Marx J. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2002.

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