Atelectasis is a condition where the alveoli could not be filled with air. Depending on the root cause, the condition can involve either small or wide sections of the lung.
What are the signs?
The signs of atelectasis vary from non-existent to serious depending on how much the lung is involved and how rapidly it develops. In case only a few are affected or occurs in a slow rate, there might be no symptoms.
If atelectasis involves several alveoli or arises rapidly, it is difficult to acquire adequate oxygen to the blood.
If there is low blood oxygen, it can lead to the following:
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Piercing chest pain especially during coughing or deep breathing
- Bluish-tinged skin, fingernails, lips or toenails
Management of atelectasis
The treatment for atelectasis is based on the underlying cause and severity of the symptoms.
In case the individual has difficulty breathing or feels that he/she is not getting enough air, seek medical care right away. A breathing device must be needed until the doctor can determine the root cause.
In most cases of atelectasis, surgery is not required. Depending on the underlying cause, the doctor might recommend the following measures:
- Bronchoscopy – a small tube is inserted via the mouth or nose into the lungs to clear up a mucus plug or remove a foreign object.
- Chest physiotherapy – the body is moved into different positions and tapping motions or vibrations are used to loosen and drain mucus.
- Breathing exercises – an incentive spirometer is utilized that forces the individual to take slow, deep breaths to open the alveoli.
- Drainage – if due to pneumothorax or pleural effusion, the doctor will drain fluid or air from the chest
In rare instances, there is a need to remove a small section or lobe of the lung. This is typically done only after other treatment options fail to work or if there is permanent scarring of the lungs.