Shortness of breath is common after an accident. Trauma to the stomach or chest may seem like you simply have the air knocked out of you. You are also excited, scared, nervous—all of which can result in rapid breathing. However, sometimes this shortness of breath is a sign of something more serious, like a collapsed lung.
One of the most common ways that a collapsed lung occurs is through trauma to the lung cavity, which can be caused by a harmful blow to the chest or upper body. These are frequently found after serious car accidents, truck accidents and other traumatic events. A punctured lung can also cause the lung to collapse. In addition to traumatic events, punctured lungs are seen when an error is committed receiving treatment in the hospital, potentially creating a basis for a medical malpractice claim.
What is a Collapsed Lung?
A collapse lung’s medical name is pneumothorax. If air escapes the lung, it disrupts the lung’s normal function. The air can surround the lung and cause it to collapse inside of the chest. When the lung is surrounded by air, it cannot inflate and stretch properly, causing serious problems.
This is referred to as “tension pneumothorax.” The pressure in the lung cavity also slows or stops blood flow to the heart as well. Blood pressure drops suddenly and other vital organs can be negatively affected very quickly. If the injured person does not receive prompt medical attention, they face the risk of death.
Another type of collapsed lung is called “simple pneumothorax.” This condition is not a complete collapse of the lung—it is usually only a partial collapse. This condition is not as severe and does not affect the blood flow in such a dramatic way as the tension pneumothorax. Shortness of breath is common, but this condition may not require emergency treatment. However, it can slowly get worse, so medical attention is still advised.
How Lungs Collapse
Generally speaking, there are two types of lung injuries: direct and indirect. Direct injuries are those that directly affect the lung. Indirect injuries are caused because another part of the body has been harmed and it is affecting the lung.
Examples of direct injuries include:
- Severe lung infection
- Near drowning (pulmonary aspiration)
- Inhalation of harmful smoke or fumes
- Trauma to the lungs (i.e. Puncture, Car Accidents, etc)
Indirect causes could include:
- Bacteria in the blood stream (sepsis)
- Severe bleeding from an injury (or blood transfusion)
- Trauma to the head or chest
- Drug overdose
- Severe burns
Given the vital function of the lungs in keeping us alive, any injury should be immediately examined by a medical professional.
Symptoms of a Collapsed Lung
Unless the collapse is partial and very minor, it will be relatively easy to tell if a lung has collapsed. Look for the following signs and symptoms:
- Sharp, stabbing pain that worsens with breathing
- Pain in the shoulder or back
- Dry, hacking cough
- Low blood pressure
- Extreme fatigue
- Rapid breathing (trouble getting enough air)
If you see signs of cardiovascular collapse and shock with tension pneumothorax, seek medical attention immediately. This is life threatening. These signs include:
- Large veins in the neck stick out
- Skin is a blush color due to lack of oxygen
- Blood pressure is decreased
- Pulse is rapid
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of consciousness
If you have any symptoms of chest pain following a serious accident, see a doctor immediately. Problems with the lungs can often signify problems in other areas of the body, such as internal bleeding.
Treating a Collapsed Lung
Treatment for a collapsed lung will vary depending on the seriousness of the injury. If only a small portion of the lung has been harmed, there may be no need for invasive treatment because the lung will heal on its own. However, if a larger portion of the lung has been damaged, then you may require hospitalization and close monitoring to be sure that it does not cause more problems.
For severe collapsed lung occurrences, treatment is necessary to remove the air surrounding the lung. Once this air is removed, then the lung is able to expand to its full capacity. The air is removed by inserting a suction tube into the chest. The relief in cases like these is immediate, but it will take several days for the lung to expand.
In situations where you have tension pneumothorax, the air must be removed immediately to avoid long term damage or death. In a procedure called ‘needle thoracentesis’, a needle is inserted into the chest to release the air. As long as this procedure is administered quickly, then symptoms improve almost immediately.
Recovering from a collapsed lung can be a long process. Partially collapsed lung problems can heal in a shorter time period in otherwise healthy adults. In more serious cases, a chest tube may be needed for some time after the injury and long term damage may result.
While you are recovering, moving, breathing, talking, and even laughing may be painful. A cough suppressant may be helpful, but talk to your doctor about specific medication recommendations.
Minimizing the Risk of a Collapsed Lung
In most instances, car accidents and other trauma-related blows are difficult to avoid. You can minimize the risk of a collapsed lung by making sure that you and everyone in your vehicle is properly using their seat belts. The seat belt, in most situations, will prevent your chest from hitting the dash, steering wheel, or other hard object in the vehicle. Young children and infants should be seated in car seats according to manufacturer recommendations.
Collapsed Lung Injury Lawsuits
If you have been involved in an accident that was not your fault and suffered a lung injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Treatment for a collapsed lung and other related medical problems can become very expensive, very quickly. A St. Louis personal injury lawyer will help to make sure you are reimbursed for this financial burden.
Call the experienced and compassionate team at The Dixon Injury Firm for a FREE lung injury case evaluation. Call (314) 409-7060 at your convenience.