How To Recognize Collapsed Lung Symptoms And Signs

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What Is A Collapsed Lung?

It is important to be able to recognize collapsed lung symptoms as timely medical attention can save a life when this problem occurs in a person. A collapsed lung is a medical condition in which air gets into the area between the walls of the chest and the lung as well as inside the lung resulting in some part or the whole lung collapsing. The air which accumulates in the pleural space is due to some trauma to the chest or the presence of a hole in the lung. If the symptoms of a collapsed lung are not treated, this condition becomes life threatening when persisting over long periods and if it is not treated in a timely fashion, the complications are quite severe and the patient may die before getting medical attention. If however the signs and symptoms are recognized early and the patient is given proper treatment, it is possible to avoid the numerous complications, the acute pain and also avoid fatalities.

Signs and Symptoms

  1. The first symptoms observed in most patients are sharp stabs of pain that increase when one breaths deeply. This condition is termed “pleuritic” in medical terms since it is caused by severe irritation of the pleura (the pleura is the innermost lining of the walls of the rib). It is the pleura which have nerve-endings which sense the pain, lung tissues don’t have these unique nerves.

  2. The next symptom is shooting pain which travels from the chest cavity upwards to either the shoulder blade or downwards to the backside of a person.

  3. Many patients exhibit a dry, severe cough which is due to the diaphragm being traumatized.

  4. Many patients show signs and symptoms of cardiovascular collapse and subsequently go into shock. In such cases this medical condition becomes life-threatening and requires immediate admission into the emergency ward.

  5. Other symptoms of a collapsed lung include prominence of the big veins of the neck, the skin showing a blue tinge due to oxygen depletion in the blood, very fast pulse rates and accompanying low blood pressure. At this stage the patient looks panicked and may experience difficulty in clear speech. If this stage is not given immediate medical attention the patient may faint and shock or even death may follow next.

  1. The patient shows marked shortness of breath. The extent of shortness of breath depends on how severe the lung collapse is. There is also an uncomfortable feeling of tightness in the center of the chest.


The signs and symptoms of a collapsed lung have been described above and if they are not treated in a timely fashion, complications like an extremely low concentration of oxygen in the blood, termed “hypoxemia” can result. Hypoxemia in turn causes disturbances in most of the basic bodily functions and can cause death. The patient may also go into cardiac arrest, experience respiratory failure and go into shock if collapsed lung symptoms are ignored.


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  3. Williams, L. (2004). Pathophysiology: a 2-in-1 reference for nurses. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: Ambler, USA.