What is Atelectasis? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments.


What Is Atelectasis?

The lungs are a pair of organs in your chest that carry the air to transfer oxygen to your body. Atelectasis is the name for the collapse of one or more spaces in the lung. When you breathe in, your lungs load up with the air travels to air sacs in your lungs where the oxygen runs into your blood. The blood transfers oxygen to organs and tissues everywhere in your body.

When air sacs become collapsed because of atelectasis, they cannot expand properly or take in enough air and oxygen. If adequately of the lungs are affected, your blood may not obtain enough oxygen, which can cause health problems. atelectasis often originates after surgery. It is not typically life-threatening, but in remarkable cases, it necessitates to be treated quickly.

Causes of Atelectasis

Atelectasis is usually classified into 2 categories namely obstructive atelectasis and non-obstructive atelectasis. The most crucial number of atelectasis cases is reported due to anesthesia use. Since anesthesia modifies the regular pattern of breathing, it affects the normal replacement of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is approximated that around 90% of patients undergoing a major surgery end up having atelectasis subsequent to the surgery.

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Causes of obstructive atelectasis

  • Bronchial blockage– This generally happens when there is mucus build-up in the airways. Mucus normally builds up in the airways when a person is incapable to cough effectively to remove the mucus. Due to the consequences of the drug, you breathe less intensely and hence the excretions get collected in the airways. Frequently, suctioning of the lungs is done during surgery, which raises the secretions, but may soon return the surgery. Old age people are at greater risk of developing atelectasis.
  • Foreign body– Atelectasis due to a foreign body is not very obvious. This may happen when a small food particle-like peanut is inhaled. Children are at greater risk if they accidentally breathe any small toy parts.
  • The tumor inside the airway– Any irregular growth of tissue such as the tumor can decrease the airflow and cause atelectasis.

Causes of non-obstructive atelectasis

  • Injury– Atelectasis can be precipitated due to the chest. It may be caused during a car accident when a chest injury may occur and you may not be capable to take deep breaths due to pain which can lead to condensation of the lungs.
  • Pleural effusion– When there is fluid build-up among the tissue lining of the lungs and the inner part of the chest wall, pleural effusion happens and leads to atelectasis.
  • Pneumonia– A lung infection in which includes pneumonia is known to cause atelectasis.
  • Pneumothorax– During pneumothorax, the air gets caught between the lung and chest wall causing the lung to drop and leads to atelectasis.
  • Scarring of the lung– This may occur largely due to lung infection or injury during an accident.
  • Tumor– An abnormal thickening of the tissue such as a large tumor can exert pressure on the lungs and prompting it to deflate.

Symptoms of Atelectasis

If a small piece of the lungs or airways become affected, atelectasis may not cause any noticeable symptoms.

However, when the condition affects a significant portion of the lung or airways, common manifestations of atelectasis involve:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever
  • Reduced breathing sounds
  • Crackling when breathing
  • Excess mucus
  • Reduced chest expansion during inhalation

 How Is Atelectasis Diagnosed?

To diagnose atelectasis, doctors ordinarily start with X-rays. Another test is called a CT scan which can give more detailed pictures.

In more critical cases, a doctor may use a method called a bronchoscopy to see inside your airway. In this test, the doctor sends a small tube called a bronchoscope under the throat to look for a blockage or other issue. The test is impartially painless. If a blockage is found, your doctor may be able to eliminate it during the procedure.


Standard treatment for the atelectasis involve:

  • Inhaled medications
  • Breathing and coughing exercises
  • Assistive breathing machines
  • Sitting upright
  • Getting up mad moving around soon after surgery

A doctor may also perform surgery for one or more of the following reasons that involve:

  • Removing fluid
  • Removing obstructions
  • Removing growths
  • Correcting anatomical structures
  • Reopening collapsed tissues

Treatment of atelectasis can be planned based on the cause and severity of the symptoms. The severity may be decided by undergoing the above tests as discussed earlier. If you are feeling hardness with breathing and having a craving for air, your doctor would suggest the assistance of a breathing machine to recognize the lungs to recover.

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