​Pneumothorax


A pneumothorax is an abnormal collection of air inside the chest cavity that causes the lung to collapse. Under normal circumstances, the lungs expand when the chest cavity inflates and creates a vacuum that sucks in air from the atmosphere into the lungs. If air enters the chest, the vacuum is lost, causing the lung to collapse.

A pneumothorax can occur on its own, without any underlying disease, which is known as a primary spontaneous pneumothorax. It may also occur because of disease or injury such as gunshot/knife wound, rib fracture or trauma due to mechanical ventilation, or damage to the lungs caused by asthma, pneumonia or other lung diseases (secondary pneumothorax).

The major risk factor for a collapsed lung is smoking. Tall, thin people are also more likely to develop pneumothorax. Research also shows that men are more likely to develop pneumothorax than women. Age and weight are other contributing factors. In certain cases, the disease may be inherited as well. ​

The symptoms of a pneumothorax are: 

  • Sharp, severe chest pain that worsens with cough or with deep breaths

  • Difficulty in breathing, ranging from mild to severe, depending on how much of the lung is collapsed

Sometimes the symptoms get worse when there is a sudden or significant change in altitude, for instance, during air travel or during deep sea diving. 

Often people are unaware of the potential danger of pneumothorax and wait for several days without seeking medical attention. If you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, visit your doctor immediately. If you have had one pneumothorax, the risk of getting a second one increases significantly, so never ignore your symptoms. The Heart, Lungs and Vascular services at The Aga Khan University Hospital offer quality healthcare and a range of treatment options. 

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so makes sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. H​ere ​are some tips to help get you started. ​

As the signs and symptoms of pneumothorax can be vague, your doctor will run some tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:

  • Chest X-ray – an image of your heart and lungs is captured by an X-ray machine which the doctor uses to check for the presence of trapped air.

  • Cardiac CT (Computerized Tomography) scan – this provides detailed images of your heart and lungs so your doctor can detect the tell-tale findings of a pneumothorax. It is particularly useful when a more thorough analysis of the lungs/chest is required.

  • Ultrasound – In this procedure, high frequency sound waves are used to create an image of your chest. This is useful for rapid diagnosis, and is more sensitive than chest X-ray in case of trauma victims.​

If only a small part of your lung has collapsed, you may not need treatment at all. Instead, your physician may monitor your condition over a few days to ensure that the pneumothorax has resolved and the lung has expanded. This is done with the help of chest X-rays. If, however, a larger area of the lung has collapsed, then there are different options available:

  • Needle thoracostomy: In this procedure, a hollow needle is inserted between your ribs, in the area where the air has accumulated. A syringe is used to pull out the excess air, similar to the process of drawing blood. 

  • Chest tube: This process is identical to the one mentioned above, except that, instead of a needle, a tube attached to a suction machine is used to pull out excess air from the lungs.

  • Surgery: This is reserved as a last option to close the leak causing air to fill up in the lungs. Surgery is performed by making an incision and inserting a minute fibre-optic camera into the chest cavity to observe the source of the air and then sewing it shut. In most cases, a small incision will suffice but in some complicated cases, a larger incision is needed. Surgery is also helpful in preventing recurrence of pneumothorax.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.


​​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.