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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

Atelectasis happens when the alveoli in your lungs cannot expand fully. This may cause part or all of your lung to collapse. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide cannot take place in the alveoli, when your lung collapses. Atelectasis happens very often after surgery. Atelectasis may last for days. It may be caused by not being able to take a deep breath due to blocked airways or surgery. It may also be due to disease, infection, or trauma.


Call 911 if:

You cough up blood continuously or more than 3 teaspoons.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your symptoms return.
  • You have a fever.
  • You cough up blood.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You are coughing up a large amount of mucus.
  • You are more tired than usual.
  • You have trouble catching your breath while you exercise or walk up stairs.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need more tests. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Do not smoke:

Smoking can make your symptoms worse. It is never too late to quit. Ask your provider for more information if you need help quitting.

Manage and prevent atelectasis:

  • Postural drainage means getting into positions that help mucus drain. Postural drainage is sometimes used with chest percussion (gentle clapping to help move the mucus out of your lungs). Ask your provider for more information about postural drainage and chest percussion.
  • Frequent coughing can help clear mucus from your lungs.
  • Deep breathing exercises help improve your lung function and reduce your risk for atelectasis. An incentive spirometer may be used after surgery to help you breathe deeply and slowly. Ask your provider for more information on deep breathing exercises.
  • Change your position to promote lung expansion and reduce the risk for infection. Sit on the side of the bed or walk frequently after surgery as directed.
  • Drink liquids as directed to help loosen mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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