Overview

A punctured lung occurs when air collects in the space between the two layers of the tissue lining your lung. This causes pressure on the lungs and prevents them from expanding. The medical term is known as pneumothorax. There are several variations of this issue, all of which are referred to as a punctured or collapsed lung.

Types and causes

A punctured lung can be categorized in different ways depending on its cause:

Traumatic pneumothorax: This happens when there has been a direct trauma to the chest, such as a broken rib or an injury from a stab or gunshot. Some medical procedures deliberately collapse the lung, which would also fall under this category.

Primary spontaneous pneumothorax: This is when the punctured lung occurs without any exact cause. It typically happens when there is a rupture of a small air sac on the outside of the lung. This causes air to leak into the cavity around the lung.

Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax: This happens when a punctured lung is caused by pre-existing lung disease, such as lung cancer, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Symptoms

It’s important to recognize a punctured lung as soon as possible so that you can get early treatment and avoid a life-threatening situation. If you experience any form of trauma to the chest, look for the following symptoms:

  • chest pain that increases after coughing or taking a deep breath
  • shortness of breath
  • abnormal breathing
  • tightness in the chest
  • a rapid heart rate
  • pale or blue skin due to lack of oxygen
  • fatigue

If you have a punctured lung, you may feel soreness in your chest. Usually the collapse occurs on only one side, and that’s where the pain would occur. You’d also have difficulty breathing.

Treatment

Treatment for a punctured lung varies depending on the severity of the trauma and the amount of damage to the lung.

It’s possible for a small pneumothorax to heal on its own. In this case, you may only require oxygen and rest to make a full recovery. A doctor may also release additional air around the lung by sucking it out through a needle, which allows the lung to fully expand.

For a large pneumothorax, a chest tube is placed through the ribs into the area surrounding the lungs to help drain the air. The chest tube can be left in place both for air drainage and also to help inflate the lung. In severe cases, the chest tube may need to be left in place for several days before the chest begins to expand.

Surgery may be required for people who experience repeated pneumothorax. A large puncture wound would also require surgery, as the lung tissue would not be able to close immediately and repair itself. The surgeons will likely work to repair the injury by going through tubes placed down the throat into the bronchial airways. Surgeons can also make an incision in the skin. Additionally, surgeons may place a tube to remove excess air, and they may have to suction out any blood cells or other fluids in the pleural space. The approach depends on the injury.

Recovery and aftercare

It will usually take 6 to 8 weeks to fully recover from a punctured lung. However, recovery time will depend on the level on injury and what action was required to treat it.

There are some aftercare guidelines you can follow to help you recover and prevent complications:

  • Take any medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Stay active while taking enough rest.
  • Sleep in an elevated position for the first few days.
  • Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the ribcage.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Avoid a sudden change in air pressure.
  • Avoid driving until you’re fully recovered.
  • Watch for signs of a recurrence.
  • Try breathing exercises that your doctor gives you.
  • Attend all of your follow-up appointments.

Complications

The most common complication of a punctured lung is experiencing another one in the future. Other complications include shock. This can happen if there are serious injuries or infection, severe inflammation, or developing fluid in the lung. Tension pneumothorax, which can lead to cardiac arrest, is another possible complication.

Outlook

A punctured lung usually won’t cause any future health complications if it’s treated quickly. However, if the collapse was caused by trauma to your lung, it’s possible for the condition to occur again. You’re also more likely to experience another punctured lung if you smoke.

It’s important to call your doctor immediately if you think you’re having another collapse of the lung. Delaying treatment can lead to complications or a longer recovery period.