Air in the chest is not always essential to life. Sometimes, it kills…
Gladys was worried.
She had put several calls through to Donald, her husband who had embarked on a trip early that morning and had to resort to public transportation because his car stubbornly refused to start, and he needed to complete his company’s assignment without fail.
Thankfully, he was able to arrive in time and begin the return journey, but after he sent a message to her on WhatsApp that his vehicle had moved, she had tried unsuccessfully to reach him since then.
A trip of about 3 hours and now it’s 4 and a half and yet no sign of him and there was no way to reach him.
She was indeed worried sick.
She paced in the living room, and then sat, and then paced again. It was getting dark and she glanced at the clock.
“Donald should have been here since about 4 pm, and now this is ten minutes to 7 pm,” She said to herself in an almost teary tone. She put a call to his office but that too rang out.
At about 7:17 pm, her phone rang, and it wasn’t a number she was familiar with. Her Truecaller app identified the number to be Rockdale hospital, and her hands shook as she picked up the phone… 2 minutes after, and she was on her way. Donald had been involved in a car crash on his way back. Thankfully, he was fine and only suffered mild chest trauma. The person who was tasked to call Gladys had gotten carried away, and forgot to call her on time.
She was enraged when she heard this but was glad her husband was fine, with only a chest tube stuck into his chest. He had a pneumothorax, or air in his chest due to the trauma…
A pneumothorax occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and chest wall, which then pushes on the outside of the lung and could make it collapse.
Just like in the fiction above, the commonest cause of a pneumothorax is chest injury, which could either be blunt or penetrating.
It could also result as a complication after certain medical procedures, or secondary to damage from an already existing lung disease. Sometimes, it may occur due to no obvious reasons.
However, certain risk factors could also predispose to the development of a pneumothorax.
A man is more likely to have a pneumothorax than a woman, and also in smokers than non-smokers. For some others, it tends to run in families due to genetics, and having a previous pneumothorax is a risk factor for developing another.
People who require mechanical assistance to breathe can develop a severe type of pneumothorax as the ventilator creates an imbalance of air pressure within the chest of which the lung may collapse completely.
How a pneumothorax is treated depends on its severity. One of the goals of treating a pneumothorax is to relieve the pressure on the lung, to allow it to re-expand. And depending on the cause of the pneumothorax, a second goal may be to prevent recurrences.
Treatment could be both surgical and non-surgical. These treatment options may include observation, needle aspiration, chest tube insertion, or surgery. Supplemental oxygen therapy could also be initiated to speed air reabsorption and lung expansion.
If treatment is commenced promptly, complications are rare. Pneumothorax is an emergency and should be treated as such. Hence, complications vary and are dependent on the size and severity of the pneumothorax as well as the cause and treatment. Sometimes air may continue to leak if the opening in the lung won’t close or pneumothorax may recur.