Key Facts:

  • Pneumothorax can be a complete lung collapse or only a portion of the lung.
  • Accidents, lung disease or illness, and changes in air pressure while participating in flying, mountain climbing or scuba diving have all been known to cause lung collapse.
  • A minor pneumothorax may reflate on its own, but for more serious cases a needle aspiration or chest tube can be inserted to allow the lung to reflate.
  • People who have had one pneumothorax can have another, typically within two years.

What Causes Collapsed Lung?

There are a few different types pneumothorax, categorized by what caused the lung collapse.

A primary spontaneous pneumothorax has no apparent cause. This type of lung collapse takes place without any underlying lung disease. This type of pneumothorax is most likely to occur in young males, especially those who are tall and thin and who smoke. This is felt to occur in individuals born with cysts or blebs that have been present since birth.

Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax is caused because of underlying lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma and pneumonia.

Traumatic pneumothorax is caused by a blunt or penetrating chest injury. The injury or trauma to the chest area may have been caused by a gunshot, knife wound or a car accident resulting in fractured ribs. Activities with dramatic changes of air pressure such as flying an airplane, mountain climbing or deep-sea diving can also result in a collapsed lung. In certain medical procedures, if a lung is inadvertently punctured, the lung may collapse as well.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: January 25, 2021

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