Atelectasis is a collapse in part of the lungs. Normally, air passes through the airways into small sacs of the lungs. Oxygen from the air passes through these sacs into the blood. Carbon dioxide also passes from the blood to the sacs to leave the body. With atelectasis, these sacs are collapsed. Oxygen and carbon dioxide cannot pass through the collapsed sacs.
A collapse over large parts of the lungs can lead to serious problems. In infants, atelectasis may be present at birth or caused by another health problem.
may be done to check for an obstruction. This is an exam of the lungs with a small tube.
Treatment will be based on the cause. Oxygen or breathing support may be needed until the problem resolves. Treatment options are:
Removing the Blockage
Steps will be taken to remove any blockage that is causing the problem. This can be done using a tube that is passed down the throat and into the lungs. Small tools can be passed through the tube to remove the object or mucus plug.
Chest therapy can be used to help move mucus out of the lungs. One option uses a rhythmic tapping on the back and chest. Another option uses special positions to help move mucus out of the lungs.
This type of therapy may include:
Breathing masks or treatments to help keep airways open
Suction to help remove fluids
Breathing support in babies who cannot breathe on their own
Medicines may be used to:
Open the airways
Treat the disease that caused the collapse
Treat an infection
Not all atelectasis can be prevented. These steps may lower the risk:
Keep small objects out of reach.
Manage lung conditions.
Avoid premature birth by having regular prenatal care, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough activity.
What is atelectasis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl. Accessed December 31, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 5/29/2020
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