Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Atelectasis and Pneumothorax

While atelectasis and pneumothorax both involve collapse of the lung, they have very different causes.

Atelectasis results from a blocked airway or pressure outside the lung. Typical causes include:

  • Foreign object in the airway
  • Tumor
  • Mucus plug
  • Lung disease
  • Infection
  • Fluid buildup around the lung
  • Air buildup around the lung

Pneumothorax results from air from the lung filling the area surrounding the lung. This is usually because of a puncture of the lung from a variety of injuries, including:

  • Car accident
  • Fall
  • Stab wound
  • Gunshot
  • Surgical injury

Spontaneous pneumothorax occurs without detectable cause. It is more common in people with chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Diagnosing atelectasis and pneumothorax

Diagnosis of atelectasis or pneumothorax begins with a physical exam. Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • X-ray: A chest X-ray can identify the presence of blockages or fluids creating pressure.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test combines X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed cross-sectional images of your chest cavity.
  • Bronchoscopy: An endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end) is inserted into your airway to check for blockages.
  • Arterial blood gas: This blood test checks the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood and measures your blood’s acidity.
  • Pulse oximetry: An oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in your blood with a sensor that’s clipped onto your finger.

Diagnostic Tests