What is Atelectasis?

Atelectasis is a respiratory condition that is characterized by the breakdown of the tissues in the lung thus preventing normal respiratory functions from being accomplished. The main cause of Atelectasis is constriction of the bronchus that serves the affected regions of the lungs. There are two main types of Atelectasis, acute atelectasis and chronic atelactasis. Treatment for this condition includes antibiotics for postoperative patients and in some cases, surgery. There are other names for atelectasis. These include Acute and Chronic Atelectasis, Absorption Atelectasis, Pulmonary Embolism, Lung Collapse and Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

Causes of Atelectasis

Atelectasis is caused by the blockage or obstruction of the major airways and this is caused by pressure on the lungs. This pressure can be either fluid pressure or air. It can even be pressure associated with a tumor outside of the lungs. Atelectasis affects both children and adults equally.

In a fetus, atelectasis occurs when the lungs are not able to expand in the normal way, at birth. Fetal Atelectasis may be the result of a variety of factors which include but are not limited to premature birth, fetal hypoxia (a reduction in oxygen supply in blood or tissue) and the obstruction of the air passage caused by a mucus plug.

In adults, atelectasis is caused by airway blockage caused by secretions or it may be caused by the presence of tumors on the lung. It can also be attributed to postoperative complications following a surgical procedure.

Symptoms of Atelectasis

In Acute Atelectasis, there is a sudden blockage or constriction of the air passage and this results in an increase in body temperature, a drop in blood pressure and in some cases, shock. In Chronic Atelectasis, there may be no symptoms at all except for a gradual feeling of weakness and dyspnea or shortness of breath.


In infants, atelectasis is treated by suctioning the trachea to create an opening in the bronchus (air passage) and the administering of oxygen. Acute Atelectasis is treated by removing whatever matter is causing the blockage. This is done by inducing coughing, suctioning and in extreme cases, a bronchoscope may be used. If the atelectasis is as a result of obstruction caused by secretions, chest physiotherapy can be employed. Chronic atelectasis may require surgery to remove the affected region or lobe of the lung and antibiotics are usually prescribed to fight the infection that usually accompanies this type of atelectasis.

Prevention of Atelectasis

Deep breathing, often with the assistance of a breathing apparatus in postoperative surgery patients is an effective way to prevent Atelectasis. There are also asthma home test kits that can be purchased online or in pharmacies which can check to ensure the good health of the lungs. An example of one such device is the UltrabreatheASI7492 Compact Breathing Exerciser and it retails on Amazon.com for $43.78. This home diagnosis can identify any breathing problems that a person might have. It is important to see a physician when in doubt.

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