Bibasilar atelectasis is a condition caused by a partial collapse of your lungs. It happens when the small air sacs called alveoli in your lungs deflate. Treatment may include medications, suctioning, or surgery.

Bibasilar atelectasis specifically refers to the collapse of the lower sections of your lungs. It’s less common, but bibasilar atelectasis can also refer to a total lung collapse.

Bibasilar atelectasis may not have any symptoms that you’ll notice. However, if you do have symptoms, the most common ones may be:

  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • breathing that is rapid and shallow

Difficulty breathing is the primary symptom that you’ll notice.

Bibasilar atelectasis usually occurs after you’ve had a surgical procedure that involves general anesthesia, especially chest or abdominal surgery. However, there are additional causes as well.

The causes of bibasilar atelectasis fall into two categories which are obstructive or nonobstructive. The obstructive category of this condition means it’s caused by something that’s in the way — or obstructing — the airway.

The nonobstructive category means it’s caused by something creating pressure on the lungs that’s not allowing your lungs to fill with oxygen.

The causes for obstructive bibasilar atelectasis may include the following:

  • Mucus accumulating in your lungs which causes a mucus plug to form. This usually occurs after various types of surgery.
  • A foreign object that has been inhaled into the lungs. This may be a small piece of food, a small piece of a toy, or something similar. It’s most common in children.
  • The major airways are made narrower by disease. This may be from tuberculosis, chronic infections, and more.
  • A blood clot in the airway, but only if there’s a large amount of bleeding into the lungs and you’re not able to cough it out.
  • An abnormal growth (tumor) in the airway.

The causes for nonobstructive bibasilar atelectasis may include the following:

  • Injury to your chest, where the pain from the injury may make it difficult for you to take a deep breath.
  • Pneumothorax, which occurs when air leaks out of your lungs into the space between your chest wall and your lungs, making it difficult for the lung to inflate.
  • Pleural effusion, which happens when fluid builds up between the lining of your lungs (called pleura) and your chest wall, preventing the lungs from inflating.
  • A tumor which isn’t blocking your airway but instead is putting pressure on your lungs and not allowing them to inflate.
  • Using large amounts of opioids or sedatives.
  • Some neurologic conditions that reduce the ability to breathe deeply.
  • An inability to move due to injury, illness, or disability.

Obesity may also be a risk factor or cause for nonobstructive bibasilar atelectasis. If your excess weight pushes on your lungs, it may be difficult for you to take a deep breath which may lead to this condition.

The complications of bibasilar atelectasis can become serious if not treated by your doctor or a medical professional. The following are some possible complications of bibasilar atelectasis:

  • Hypoxemia. This is when there are low oxygen levels in your blood.
  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia can be both a cause as well as a complication that develops with this condition.
  • Respiratory failure. Most bibasilar atelectasis is treatable. However, if you have lung disease or a full lung is lost due to the condition, you can go into respiratory failure. This can be life-threatening.

Treatment for bibasilar atelectasis is based on what’s causing it. If the cause is a blockage, then that blockage will be removed with medication, suctioning, or sometimes surgery. Your doctor may need to suction out excess mucus to allow you to take deep breaths and clear up your lungs. An obstruction like a tumor may need to be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or other medications.

Once the cause is treated, you may need additional treatments to help with your symptoms until they’re cleared. These additional treatments may include extra oxygen or antibiotics to clear up any infections.

If you have one of the causes or risk factors, your doctor may want to check your lungs or oxygen level periodically. If bibasilar atelectasis is suspected, then your doctor will conduct a physical examination as well as a history of recent medical conditions and treatments.

An X-ray of your chest will confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed your doctor may perform additional tests to find out what’s causing the condition. These additional tests may include a CT scan or bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy is when your doctor views your lungs through a viewing tube into your bronchus.

Bibasilar atelectasis often occurs when you’re in the hospital recovering from surgery. This means that it can be diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively, which can help prevent any further complications.

However, since there are other possible causes that happen outside of the hospital, it’s important that you visit your doctor if you have any symptoms or risk factors for bibasilar atelectasis. The earlier this condition is diagnosed, the lower your chances are of having serious complications.