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AirPhysio Blog

Atelectasis – Condition and Treatment

Atelectasis (at-uh-LEK-tuh-sis) is the collapse or closure of part or (much less commonly) all of a lung. This results in a reduction or absence of the gas exchange to and from oxygen and carbon dioxide. Atelectasis is similar to pneumothorax, except that the blockage or collapse is on the inside of the lung airways for atelectasis, while pneumothorax is caused by air or fluid being trapped between the rib cage and the outside of the lungs, putting pressure on the lungs from the outside and causing them to collapse. This is usually caused by a puncture of the rib cage.

Risk factors for developing atelectasis include:

  • Anaesthesia
  • Foreign object in the airway (most common in children)
  • Lung diseases
  • Mucus that plugs the airway
  • Pressure on the lung caused by a build-up of fluid between the ribs and the lungs (called a pleural effusion)
  • Prolonged bed rest with few changes in position
  • Shallow breathing (may be caused by painful breathing)
  • Tumours that block an airway

In atelectasis, part of the lung collapses or doesn’t inflate. The air sacs in that part of the lung are no longer filled with air. As a result, they can’t take part in gas exchange.

If only a small area or a few small areas of the lungs are affected, you may have no signs or symptoms. This is because the rest of the lung can bring in enough oxygen to make up for the collapsed part of the lung.

If atelectasis affects a large area or several large areas of the lungs, your body’s organs and tissues may not get enough oxygen-rich blood. Conditions and factors that keep the lungs from properly expanding and filling with air can cause atelectasis.

Atelectasis is very common after surgery or in patients who were in the hospital.

The reason behind this is that the medicine which is used during surgery to temporarily put you to sleep (Anaesthesia) can decrease or stop your normal effort to breathe and urge to cough. Sometimes, especially after chest or abdominal surgery, pain may keep you from wanting to take deep breaths. As a result, part of your lungs may collapse or not inflate correctly.

Atelectasis can also be caused by certain lung conditions which cause a blockage or collapse of the lungs like AsthmaEmphysemaBronchitis and Cystic Fibrosis. If these conditions aren’t treated, and conditions worsen, they can lead to Atelectasis, i.e. the blockage or collapse or closure of part or all of the lung.

If atelectasis persists, it may prevent the lung from properly clearing mucus. This can lead to infections (such as pneumonia).

How Does AirPhysio Help Atelectasis?

AirPhysio assists in 2 distinct ways:

1. Firstly the clearance process of AirPhysio assists in clearing any blockage or build-up of mucus through the 2 stage mobilization and elimination method.

2. Secondly, the vibration or flutter effect of the AirPhysio, including the deep breathing method assist in conditioning the airway, potentially reopening any blocked or collapsed parts of the lungs.

For more information about atelectasis, please refer to the following web pages and articles: 

NHLBI – Atelectasis

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