Atelectasis (at-uh-LEK-tuh-sis) â a complete or partial collapse of a lung or lobe of a lung â develops when the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lung become deflated. It's a breathing (respiratory) complication after surgery.
Atelectasis is also a possible complication of other respiratory problems, including cystic fibrosis, inhaled foreign objects, lung tumors, fluid in the lung, respiratory weakness and chest injuries.
The amount of lung tissue involved in atelectasis is variable, depending on the cause. Atelectasis can make breathing difficult and lower oxygen particularly if lung disease is already present. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the collapse.
There may be no obvious signs or symptoms of atelectasis. If you do have signs and symptoms, they may include:
Atelectasis is likely to occur when you're already in a hospital. However, seek medical attention right away if you have trouble breathing. Other conditions besides atelectasis can cause breathing difficulties and require an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. If your breathing becomes increasingly difficult, seek emergency care.
Atelectasis may be the result of a blocked airway (obstructive) or of pressure from outside the lung (nonobstructive).
Almost everyone who has surgery has some atelectasis from anesthesia. Anesthesia changes your regular pattern of breathing and the absorption of gases and pressures, which may combine to cause some degree of collapse of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. Atelectasis is particularly prominent after heart bypass surgery.
Obstructive atelectasis may be caused by:
Possible causes of nonobstructive atelectasis include:
To diagnose atelectasis and determine the underlying cause, your doctor may order tests, including:
The following complications may result from atelectasis:
Atelectasis in children is often caused by a blockage in the airway. To decrease atelectasis risk, keep small objects out of reach of children.
In adults, atelectasis most commonly occurs after surgery. If you're scheduled for surgery, talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk of atelectasis.
Factors that increase the risk of atelectasis include: