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.
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 oxygen. 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.
Respiratory therapy may include any or all of the following:
Breathing masks or treatments to help keep your airways open
Incentive spirometry to promote deep breathing
Suction to help remove secretions
Mechanical ventilation if you are unable to breathe adequately on your own
Your doctor may recommend:
Medications to open the airways
Medications or therapy to treat the health condition that caused the collapse
Antibiotics to treat certain kinds of infection
Oxygen, if you are having trouble breathing
Bronchoscopy may be used to remove a foreign body or mucus that is blocking the airway.
To help reduce your chances of atelectasis:
After surgery, follow instructions for deep breathing, coughing, and turning. Ask for pain medication if discomfort is limiting movement or coughing.
smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
If you need to, talk to your doctor about the best ways to
If you have a chronic lung or heart condition, follow the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
Atelectasis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/bronchiectasis-and-atelectasis/atelectasis. Updated July 2014. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Explore atelectasis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl. Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed December 11, 2017.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.