What is Atelectasis?

Atelectasis occurs when one or more parts of your lungs collapse or do not inflate properly. A total or partial collapse of a lung or lobe of a lung is known as atelectasis. There may be no indications or symptoms if only a tiny area or a few small parts of the lungs are damaged. If your lungs are afflicted in a large area or multiple large areas, they may be unable to supply enough oxygen to your blood. When the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lung get deflated, lung atelectasis develops. After surgery, atelectasis can be a breathing (respiratory) issue. Anesthesia causes atelectasis in almost everyone who has surgery. Each of your lungs has branching tubes that go throughout them. Air travels from your primary airway in your throat, also known as your windpipe, to your lungs when you breathe. The airways continue to branch and become narrower until they reach alveoli, which are little sacs.

Atelectasis is not the same as a collapsed lung (also called pneumothorax). When air becomes trapped between the outside of your lung and your inner chest wall, your lung collapses. Your lung will shrink or finally collapse as a result of this.


Depending on how much of your lung is affected and how quickly it develops, atelectasis symptoms can range from nonexistent to life-threatening. There may be no symptoms if only a few alveoli are affected or if the process is sluggish.

  • Trouble Breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased Heart rate
  • Blue-colored skin, lips and toenails

Causes of Atelectasis

A closed airway (obstructive) or pressure from outside the lung causes atelectasis (nonobstructive). Atelectasis is frequently caused by general anaesthesia. It disrupts your normal breathing rhythm and interferes with the exchange of lung gases, causing the air sacs (alveoli) to deflate. Almost everyone who undergoes major surgery develops atelectasis in some form. It usually happens after a heart attack.

Risk Fcators

Some of the risk factors of Atelectasis are:

  • Older age
  • Any condition that makes swallowing
  • Difficult Confinement to bed with infrequent position changes
  • Asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis are all lung diseases.
  • Surgery on the abdomen or chest
  • Smoking

How is Atelectasis Diagnosed?

X-rays are typically used to diagnose atelectasis (a test that provides pictures of the inside of your chest). A computed tomography (CT) scan is another test that can produce more comprehensive images. In more serious circumstances, a doctor may do a bronchoscopy to examine the inside of your airway. A tiny tube called a bronchoscope is passed down the throat by the doctor to look for a blockage or other problems. The examination is relatively painless. If a blockage is discovered during the treatment, your doctor may be able to remove it.

How is Atelectasis Treated?

The cause of atelectasis affects the treatment. Mild atelectasis may resolve on its own. Medications are sometimes used to loosen and thin mucus. Surgery or other treatments may be required if the problem is caused by a blockage.

Chest Physiotherapy

Breathing techniques that help you breathe deeply after surgery are critical for re-expanding collapsed lung tissue. It is preferable to learn these procedures prior to surgery. They are as follows:
Putting your body in a position where your head is lower than your chest (postural drainage). This makes it easier for mucus to discharge from the bottom of your lungs.
To release mucus, tap on your chest over the compressed spot. Percussion is the name for this method. Mechanical mucus-clearance equipment, such as an air-pulse vibrator vest or a hand-held instrument, can also be used.


Suctioning mucus or bronchoscopy can be used to remove airway blockages. A flexible tube is gently guided down your throat by the doctor during bronchoscopy to clear your airways. If a tumour is causing the atelectasis, surgery may be used to remove or shrink the tumour, along with or without other cancer treatments (chemotherapy or radiation).

Prevention from Atelectasis

An obstruction in the airway is a common cause of atelectasis in youngsters. Keep small things out of reach of youngsters to reduce the danger of atelectasis. The most prevalent cause of atelectasis in adults is major surgery. If you're about to have surgery, talk to your doctor about ways to lower your risk. After surgery, deep breathing exercises and coughing can help you avoid getting atelectasis. If you smoke, quitting before an operation can reduce your chances of acquiring the condition. Many hospital patients are given an incentive spirometer, which encourages you to take deep breaths in order to avoid and treat atelectasis.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of atelectasis?

The lungs are a pair of organs in your chest that take in air and transport it throughout your body. The term atelectasis (pronounced at-uh-LEK-tuh-sis) refers to the collapse of one or more lung regions. Your lungs fill up with air when you take a breath in. This air flows to your lungs' air sacs (alveoli), where it is absorbed into your bloodstream.

How does atelectasis affect the lungs?

There may be no symptoms if atelectasis just affects a tiny portion of the lungs. However, if it affects a bigger area, the lungs may not be able to fill with enough air, and your blood oxygen level may drop. When this happens, you may have a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including: Breathing problems (shortness of breath)

How do you know if you have atelectasis?

If your doctor suspects you have atelectasis, he or she will do a physical examination that includes tapping (percussing) the chest to listen for certain noises. Breathing sounds may be quiet or absent if the lungs are partially or completely collapsed.

Can atelectasis go away without treatment?

Mild atelectasis may resolve on its own. Medications are sometimes used to loosen and thin mucus. Surgery or other treatments may be required if the problem is caused by a blockage. Physiotherapy for the chest. Breathing techniques that help you breathe deeply after surgery are critical for re-expanding collapsed lung tissue.