Pneumothorax is the presence of gases (oxygen and others) in the pleural area. The pleurae are sac-like membranes that line the lungs of humans. Their function is to provide lubrication to the lungs and prevent friction with other organs from causing any harm as during expansion and contraction of the lungs during inhalation and exhalation. The presence of air in the pleura is an issue because the lung has difficulty expanding when breathing and therefore, there is a decrease in pulmonary volume capacity. A severe pneumothorax can cause a lung to collapse. This condition is also described as ‘having air around the lungs’ and ‘air in the pleura’, among others.
There are a few types of pneumothorax, they are:
Spontaneous Pneumothorax – The cause of this type idiopathic, meaning it is not known. It is believed that the most likely cause is a rupture of an air cushion in the lung. This type of pneumothorax is most common in tall, thin men between the ages of 21 and 21 years of age. Smokers are also at higher risk of this type, especially those with a family history of the condition.
Secondary Pneumothorax – This type can arise as a result of another disease, like pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis or tuberculosis
Traumatic Pneumothorax – Due to the rupture of the pleura and lung. Caused by a physical accident or trauma, such as broken ribs or a knife wound.
Tension Pneumothorax: This type is caused by too much pressure surrounding the lungs, causing it to collapse.
Symptoms of Pneumothorax
The symptoms are pretty straightforward and obvious. While some of them can be confusing for the average person, a trained professional will differentiate diagnosis pretty quickly with a a few tests. Symptoms include acute thoracic pain that gets worse during inspiration or cough, difficulty breathing. Also, insufficient air (a result of pneumothorax) increases cardiac beats per minute (tachycardia) so as a consequence the skin can turn into a bluish hue, signaling the lack of sufficient oxygen.
The typical clinical presentation of a patient is that of an anxious, nervous person since they have trouble breathing properly. They also complain of dizziness and present a lower blood pressure.
Pulmonary auscultation by the physician is usually the first step in diagnosing pneumothorax. What they look for is a reduction of respiratory noises on the affected side of the chest. After recognizing this, the doctor will request certain complimentary tests like a radiograph of the thorax, which will help determine the amount of air between the lung and pleura. Another test, called arterial gasometry, will help determine the levels of oxygen dilution in the blood, an important indicator of pulmonary function.
How Pneumothorax is Treated
The concept behind treatment is simple. If there is a build-up of air in the pleural space, it is a matter of eliminating this air so that the affected lung can expand normally. A minimal amount of air in the pleura requires repose.
However, if the quantity of air is too high (determined by the physician), an intercostal thoracic tube can be inserted to reach the pleural space, which allows the escape of accumulated oxygen to the exterior. This air drainage can require several sessions in the span of a few days, so hospitalization is usually required. Recurrence of pneumothorax will probably require surgery.