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Traumatic Pneumothorax


A traumatic pneumothorax is when part of your lung collapses. A traumatic pneumothorax is caused by an injury that tears your lung and allows air to enter the pleural space. This is the area between your lungs and your chest wall. The air trapped in your pleural space prevents your lung from filling with air, which causes it to collapse. A pneumothorax can happen in one or both lungs. Injuries that cause a traumatic pneumothorax include bike accidents, motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, and knife wounds.


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.

You may need extra oxygen

if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

A pulse oximeter

is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine.

A ventilator

is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.


  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease severe pain if other pain medicines do not work. Take the medicine as directed. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
  • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.


You may need one or more of the following tests to help healthcare providers plan your treatment:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give healthcare providers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Blood gases: This is also called an arterial blood gas, or ABG. Blood is taken from an artery (blood vessel) in your wrist, arm, or groin. Your blood is tested for the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in it. The results can tell healthcare providers how well your lungs are working.
  • Heart monitor: This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of the bones, lungs, and other tissues in your chest. Healthcare providers use chest x-rays to see if you have broken ribs. These x-rays may show your healthcare provider how large your pneumothorax is. Chest x-rays may also show fluid around the heart and lungs.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your chest and lungs. Healthcare providers check for a pneumothorax that did not show up on a chest x-ray. You may be given dye in your IV to help your healthcare providers see the images better. Tell the healthcare provider if you are allergic to shellfish or iodine. You may also be allergic to the dye.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your tissues on a monitor.


You may receive a shot in your skin of medicine called local anesthesia. This is given to numb the area and dull your pain so you feel more comfortable during your procedure or surgery. You may still feel pressure or pushing after you get this medicine. You may need one or more of the following procedures or surgery:

  • Needle aspiration: During needle aspiration, a needle covered with a tube is put through your skin and into your pleural cavity. Your healthcare provider will use a syringe to pull the air out of your pleural space.
  • Chest tube: A chest tube may be placed to remove air, blood, or fluid from around your collapsed lung. This allows your lung to fill up with air when you breathe, and helps your heart beat normally. The chest tube is attached to a container to remove air and collect any blood or fluid.
  • Pleurodesis: Healthcare providers use chemicals, such as iodine or talc powder, to irritate the walls of your pleural space. This causes the walls of your pleural space to close together so air can no longer be trapped there.
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery: Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is surgery done to look inside your chest with a video scope. During surgery, 2 to 3 small cuts are made between your ribs. The video scope and other special instruments are inserted into these incisions to repair your lung.
  • Thoracotomy: During a thoracotomy, an incision is made in your chest to repair your lung.


  • Air may continue to enter the pleural space and you may get a tension pneumothorax. With a tension pneumothorax, the injured lung and trapped air push against your uninjured lung. A tension pneumothorax can lead to low blood pressure, decreased oxygen in your blood, and heart problems.
  • Treatments that require cuts in your skin to reach your lung may lead to an infection in the lung area. During decompression, the needle used for the procedure may injure your lung or cut a blood vessel. This can cause bleeding around the lung. Chest tubes could be painful, become kinked or clogged, or could fall out or leak. Chest tubes could also cause a lung infection, or fluid could fill the lung instead of air. Chest tubes could damage blood vessels or other organs and cause bleeding and injury.
  • Without treatment, your lungs may completely collapse. Your heart could stop working. These risks can be life-threatening.


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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Traumatic Pneumothorax (Inpatient Care)

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