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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.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


Depending on the cause, you may receive any of the following:

  • Bronchodilators help dilate your airway to make breathing easier.
  • Mucolytics help thin mucus so it is easier to cough out.
  • Antibiotics help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Pain medicine may be given. Pain control will allow you to cough and breathe deeply. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more medicine.


  • A chest CT or MRI may be done to help find the cause of your atelectasis. You may be given contrast liquid to help your lungs show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Pulmonary functions tests (PFTs) measure how well your lungs work. PFTs may show the cause of breathing problems or how well treatments for a lung condition are working.
  • A bronchoscopy may help diagnose lung diseases, inflammation, cancer, or infections.


Depending on the cause, you may receive any of the following:

  • Humidified oxygen may be needed to loosen mucus and help raise your blood oxygen level.
  • Repositioning means moving to, or lying on, the side not affected by atelectasis to help mucus drain.
  • Incentive spirometry helps you take slow, deep breaths to expand and fill your lungs with air.
  • Mechanical ventilation may be used if you have severe breathing problems.
  • Positive airway pressure uses air pressure to keep your airways open.
  • Surgery and radiation may be done to remove or shrink tumors that may be blocking your airways.


  • 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). Your healthcare provider will tell you what positions help mucus drain. He will also do chest percussion if needed.
  • Frequent coughing can help clear mucus from your lungs.
  • Deep breathing exercises help improve your lung function and reduce your risk for atelectasis. Your healthcare providers will ask you to cough and breathe deeply several times every hour.
  • 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.


Atelectasis can cause pneumonia. Atelectasis can be life-threatening if you have a lung disease or illness and wait to get treatment. Atelectasis can become a long-term issue and prevent your airways from clearing mucus. This can cause repeat infections or respiratory failure.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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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.

Learn more about Atelectasis (Inpatient Care)

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