Overview of Atelectasis

Atelectasis, also known as Collapsed Lung, is a  respirometry condition in which a complete lung or some part of it collapses. Our lungs contain tiny air sacs called alveoli that are responsible for exchanging oxygen in the air for carbon dioxide produced by our organs and tissues. Atelectasis occurs when these tiny yet miraculous air sacs get deflated or filled up with alveolar fluid. 

Atelectasis is the most common respiratory condition that occurs after surgery. Some underlying conditions like cystic fibrosis. Lung tumors, chest injuries, or lungs filled up with fluid can increase the chances of Atelectasis. The introduction of a foreign body into the bloodstream can also be a cause of this condition. 

The treatment of Atelectasis depends upon the signs and symptoms you exhibit. As a result of Atelectasis, the lungs cannot inhale enough oxygen. Insufficient oxygen leads to many other health issues.

Signs and Symptoms of Atelectasis

Watch out for these symptoms and contact your general physician immediately if you think you are developing any of these signs: 

  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Wheezing 
  • Coughing 
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Sharp chest pain especially when you take a deep breath or cough 
  • Bluish skin or fingernails/ toenails or lips turning blue  

In some cases, the damaged part of the lung may develop pneumonia. 

Types of Atelectasis

Causes of Atelectasis

The causes of atelectasis are basically categorized into: 

  • Obstructive Atelectasis 
  • Non-Obstructive Atelectasis 

Obstructive Atelectasis 

This type of atelectasis occurs when a blockage is developed in one of your airways. This blocks the air supply to the alveoli. As a result, they cannot sustain for a longer period of time and collapse.

Causes of Obstructive Atelectasis: 

  • Inhaling a foreign object like a small piece of matter or food in the airway or windpipe. 
  • The buildup of mucus in an airway 
  • Tumor in an airway 
  • Tumor in the lung tissue that causes hindrances in the airway 

Non-Obstructive Atelectasis  

Atelectasis that is caused by conditions other than blockage in the airways is called nonobstructive atelectasis.  

Causes of Nonobstructive atelectasis:

Some most common causes of nonobstructive atelectasis are: 

  • Surgery - Atelectasis is the most common by-product of a surgical procedure. These procedures typically involve anesthesia and a breathing machine followed by more sedatives and pain medications. All of these make breathing shallow which in turn makes coughing less frequent due to which mucus may build up and the body may not get enough oxygen supply. 

  • Pleural Effusion - In pleural effusion, fluid builds up in the outside lining of your lung and inner chest wall. These two. Under normal circumstances, they are in close contact with each other and help expand the lung. But in pleural effusion, these two get separated which reduces the elasticity of the lung, and the alveoli get deflated.

  • Pneumothorax - This condition is similar to Pleural Effusion, but instead of a fluid buildup, air buildup between the lung lining and chest wall. 

  • Lung Scarring - This is also known as pulmonary fibrosis. Long-term lung diseases like tuberculosis, exposure to lung irritants, smoking, and pollution can cause lung scarring. This lung scarring is a potential cause of nonobstructive atelectasis. 

  • Chest tumor - Any type of abnormal growth around your lungs can make you more vulnerable to this condition. 



Risk Factors of Atelectasis

Some other possible risk factors of Atelectasis are;

  • Advanced Age 
  • Any underlying condition that makes breathing difficult
  • Bedridden 
  • Already having some lung disease 
  • Medication that causes shallow breathing 
  • Exposure to general anesthesia 
  • Smoking 
  • Weak respiratory system 



One way to help with atelectasis is to do deep breathing exercises right after the surgery. Cutting down on smoke and drinking can also help with Atelectasis.



You should consult your general physician as soon as you feel any of the above-mentioned symptoms kicking in. timely detection and treatment can save you from severe complications. 

Your doctor will begin the diagnosis by first consulting your medical history. Some initial tests recommended are:

  • Determining the oxygen level in your blood -  this is done with the help of a small device attached to your finger or toe. 
  • Asking you to undergo a chest X-ray
  • Asking you to undergo a chest CT Scan 
  • Performing a bronchoscopy 

Treatment of Atelectasis | When to Consult a Doctor

The treatment of this condition depends upon the signs and symptoms you are having, it can be treated through medication, and in more severe cases, surgery. 

Some non-surgical treatments are:

  • Physiotherapy - chest physiotherapy involves moving your body into different positions and angles, tapping techniques, and vibrating techniques. All of these help in losing the mucus which makes breathing easier. 

  • Exercising - breathing exercises make you utilize the full capacity of your lungs and open up the alveoli. 

  • Bronchoscopy - this is a procedure in which doctors insert a small tube through your mouth to remove any foreign objects stuck in your airways. 

  • Drainage - draining the fluid buildup also relieves this condition. To drain the fluid, a needle is inserted through your back and between the ribs. This is where all the fluid has buildup. For air removal, a chest tube is inserted and this1 tube removes any air bubbles. 

Surgery is required in very rare cases in which a small piece of the lung is removed. This is usually done when none of the above-mentioned methods work and the lung is scarred permanently.  

In case of any concerning signs and symptoms, consult a certified pulmonologist as soon as possible.