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How Is Atelectasis Treated?

The main goals of treating atelectasis are to treat the cause of the condition and to reexpand the collapsed lung tissue. Treatment may vary based on the underlying cause of the atelectasis.

Atelectasis Caused by Surgery

If atelectasis is caused by surgery, your doctor may recommend that you take the following steps to fully expand your lungs:

  • Perform deep breathing exercises. These exercises are very important after surgery. While in the hospital, you may use a device called an incentive spirometer. This device measures how much air you're breathing in and how fast you're breathing in. Using this device encourages you to breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Change your position. Sit up or walk around as soon as possible after surgery (with your doctor's permission).
  • Make an effort to cough. Coughing helps clear mucus and other substances from your airways.

Your doctor also may suggest using positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Both devices use mild air pressure to help keep the airways and air sacs open.

Atelectasis Caused by Pressure From Outside the Lungs

If pressure from outside the lungs is causing atelectasis, your doctor will treat the cause of the pressure. For example, if the cause is a tumor or fluid buildup, your doctor will remove the tumor or fluid. This will allow your lung to fully expand.

Atelectasis Caused by a Blockage

If a blockage is causing atelectasis, you'll receive treatment to remove the blockage or relieve it. If the blockage is from an inhaled object, such as a peanut, your doctor will remove it during bronchoscopy. (For more information, go to "How Is Atelectasis Diagnosed?")

If a mucus plug is blocking your airways, your doctor may use suction to remove it. Other treatments also can help clear excess mucus from the lungs, such as:

  • Chest clapping or percussion. This treatment involves pounding your chest and back over and over with your hands or a device to loosen the mucus from your lungs so you can cough it up.
  • Postural drainage. For this treatment, your bed may be tilted so that your head is lower than your chest. This allows mucus to drain more easily.
  • Medicines. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help open your airways or loosen mucus.

Atelectasis Caused by a Lung Condition or Other Medical Disorder

If a lung condition or other medical disorder us causing atelectasis, your doctor will treat the underlying cause with medicines, procedures, or other therapies.

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January 13, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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