Atelectasis is a collapse of the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. It may occur in a portion of the lung, or in the entire lung. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs and is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The lungs expand and contract to create the exchange of these gases.
Atelectasis is not a disease, but a condition or sign that results from disease or abnormalities in the lungs.
The Lungs (Cut-away View)
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Atelectasis is caused by a:
Blockage may be caused by:
Reduced amounts of surfactant may be caused by:
Factors that may increase your chance for atelectasis include:
Atelectasis may or may not cause symptoms. Small areas of collapse are less likely than larger areas to cause symptoms. Major atelectasis decreases the amount of oxygen available throughout the body.
Symptoms that may occur if a large area has collapsed include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This may include listening to your lungs for changes in the normal sounds.
Tests may include:
Other tests may be needed to confirm or rule out the cause of the atelectasis.
Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause and maintaining enough air supply. The collapsed lung usually expands after the underlying cause has been corrected. Mild atelectasis often goes away on its own without treatment.
The therapist uses different techniques to help clear mucus from the lung. You will be positioned so that gravity helps secretions flow out of the body. When resting in bed, lie on the unaffected side to promote drainage from the lung area that has collapsed. Moving around will also help clear your lungs.
This may include any or all of the following:
Your doctor may recommend:
Bronchoscopy may be used to remove a foreign body or mucus that is blocking the airway.
To help reduce your chance of atelectasis, take these steps.
American Lung Association
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
The Canadian Lung Association
Explore atelectasis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl/ . Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed September 19, 2013.
Behrman RE, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2007.
Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2008.
Mason, RJ et al. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2007.
Spontaneous pneumothorax in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated June 28, 2013. Accessed September 19, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013