Atelectasis (at-uh-LEK-tuh-sis) — a complete or partial collapse of a lung or lobe of a lung — develops when the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lung become deflated. It is one of the most common breathing (respiratory) complications after surgery. Atelectasis is also a possible complication of other respiratory problems, including cystic fibrosis, inhaled foreign objects, lung tumors, fluid in the lung, severe asthma and chest injuries.

The amount of lung tissue involved in atelectasis is variable, depending on the cause. Signs and symptoms of atelectasis also vary. Atelectasis can be serious because it reduces the amount of oxygen available to your body. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the collapse.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

There may be no obvious signs or symptoms of atelectasis. If you do experience signs and symptoms, they may include:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Coughing
  • Low-grade fever

When to see a doctor

Significant atelectasis is likely to occur when you're already in a hospital. However, see your doctor 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.

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