Atelectasis is a collapse of the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. It may occur in a portion of the lung, or in the entire lung. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs and is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The lungs expand and contract to create the exchange of these gases.
Atelectasis is not a disease, but a condition or sign that results from disease or abnormalities in the lungs.
The Lungs (Cut-away View)
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Atelectasis is caused by a:
Factors that may increase your chance for atelectasis include:
Atelectasis may or may not cause symptoms. Small areas of collapse are less likely than larger areas to cause symptoms. Major atelectasis decreases the amount of oxygen available throughout the body.
Symptoms that may occur if a large area has collapsed include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This may include listening to your lungs for changes in the normal sounds.
Your body structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Other tests may be needed to confirm or rule out the cause of the atelectasis.
Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause and maintaining enough oxygen. The collapsed lung usually expands after the underlying cause has been corrected. Mild atelectasis often goes away on its own without treatment.
The therapist uses different techniques to help clear mucus from the lung. You will be positioned so that gravity helps secretions flow out of the body. When resting in bed, lie on the unaffected side to promote drainage from the lung area that has collapsed. Moving around will also help clear your lungs.
Respiratory therapy may include any or all of the following:
Your doctor may recommend:
Bronchoscopy may be used to remove a foreign body or mucus that is blocking the airway.
To help reduce your chance of atelectasis, take these steps.
American Lung Association
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
The Canadian Lung Association
Atelectasis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/bronchiectasis-and-atelectasis/atelectasis. Updated July 2013. Accessed November 24, 2015.
What is atelectasis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atl. Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed November 24, 2015.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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