A pneumothorax occurs when air collects in the pleural space around the lung. A hemothorax occurs when blood collects in the pleural space around the lung. This blood or air collection puts pressure on the lung tissue. This pressure makes the lung unable to expand, therefore it causes the lung to collapse. A collapsed, non-expandable lung cannot take in air and therefore cannot participate in oxygenation and gas exchange. A tension pneumothorax occurs when the pressure is so great that it puts pressure on the heart and major blood vessels – therefore decreasing cardiac output – this is a medical emergency.
A pneumothorax can be spontaneous – caused by no obvious injury – due to a ruptured bleb or distended alveoli (as in COPD or in positive pressure ventilation). It could also be caused by penetrating trauma (stab, gunshot wound). Hemothorax can be caused by penetrating trauma as well, or could be due to a bleeding vessel or lesion around the lung.
To achieve reinflation of the lung by removing the blood or air. To restore appropriate oxygenation and gas exchange ability.
Breath sounds may be diminished or absent over the hemo/pneumo. A thorough assessment can identify the problem before it progresses. This will also help to determine if the lung has appropriately reinflated after intervention.
Patients may have rapid, shallow breathing due to collapsed lung
Chest expansion may be asymmetrical due to collapsed lung. This is especially prominent in a tension pneumothorax which is a medical emergency.
Tension pneumothorax can cause a significant decrease in cardiac output and is a medical emergency. Early intervention is key to good outcomes.
High-fowler’s position can improve respiratory effort and improve oxygenation. Good lung down positioning helps to improve perfusion to good lung and promote reinflation of bad lung.
Collapsed lung cannot participate in oxygenation or gas exchange, therefore supplemental oxygen is typically required.
Pain can cause patients to breathe too shallow – putting them at risk for atelectasis. Pain relief can encourage deeper breathing.
Rapid, shallow breathing, plus a collapsed lung, means a high risk for atelectasis and pneumonia. Deep breathing exercises like Incentive Spirometry and Turn, Cough, Deep Breathe, can help reinflate the lungs.
Chest tubes are placed to remove the air or blood from the pleural space. A thoracentesis is performed to drain fluid or blood from the pleural space. Both procedures will allow for reinflation of the lung. Check facility policy for post-procedure monitoring. Review Chest Tube Management and Thoracentesis lesson for more details.
Three-sided dressing creates a one-way valve. This would allow air to escape, but not re-enter. This helps to prevent the pneumothorax from worsening into a tension pneumothorax.
For more information, visit www.nrsng.com/cornell
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