Atelectasis is a condition where a portion of the lung has collapsed or is not able to completely expand. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs. Carbon dioxide is released through the lungs. 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 body.
Factors that increase your chance for atelectasis include:
A collapsed lung 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.
Your doctor may need images of your lungs. This can be done with a chest x-ray.
Your doctor may need to examine your lungs and air passages. This can be done with a bronchoscopy.
Your doctor may also need to do additional tests to check your heart, blood vessels, and airways.
Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause and maintaining enough air supply. The collapsed lung usually expands after the underlying cause has been corrected. Atelectasis often resolves 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.
This may include any or all of the following:
Medications may include:
Bronchoscopy may be used to remove a foreign body or mucus that is blocking the airway.
Measures to prevent atelectasis are related to the various causes. They include:
American Lung Association
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
The Canadian Lung Association
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.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 11/26/2012