Turn the person to lie on the healthy side, allowing the collapsed area of lung to re-expand
Use aerosolized respiratory treatments (inhaled medications) to open the airway
Use other devices that help increase positive pressure in the airways and clear fluids (positive expiratory pressure [PEP] devices)
In an adult, atelectasis in a small area of the lung is usually not life threatening. The rest of the lung can make up for the collapsed area, bringing in enough oxygen for the body to function.
Large areas of atelectases may be life threatening, especially in a baby or small child, or someone who has another lung disease or illness.
The collapsed lung usually reinflates slowly if the blockage of the airway has been removed. However, some scarring or damage may remain.
In general, the outlook depends on the underlying disease. For example, people with extensive cancer have a poor prognosis, while patients with simple atelectasis after elective surgery have good prognosis.
Pneumonia may develop quickly after atelectasis in the affected part of the lung.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of atelectasis.
Encourage movement and deep breathing in anyone who is bedridden for long periods.
Keep small objects out of the reach of young children.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.