If you’re experiencing symptoms of mild atelectasis, you may be able to avoid surgery by using a home treatment plan.
Mild atelectasis is typically the result of inhaling large amounts of air (hyperinflation) or by lying down when you exhale (apnea). These changes in posture can cause your diaphragm to contract, which can lead to mild atelectasis.
Treatment for mild atelectasis
If you’re experiencing mild atelectasis, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
- Medications to reduce hyperinflation or apnea. These may include corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and antihistamines.
- Nasal and/or oral steroids. These can help reduce inflammation by reducing swelling and mucus production.
- Using a pressure-applying device to help you exhale. You may need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
- If you’re having difficulty breathing, you may need a tracheotomy. This is a surgical procedure to help you breathe with a tube in your throat.
- Adjusting your diet. You may need to limit or eliminate salty and caffeinated foods.
Surgical procedures for atelectasis
If your atelectasis isn’t severe enough to require treatment at home, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to prevent it from getting worse.
Surgery may be necessary if:
- You have severe atelectasis, which causes you to be unable to open your airway.
- You have chronic atelectasis, which gets worse over time.
- You have recurrent atelectasis.
Surgery for mild atelectasis
A surgical procedure may be performed to prevent mild atelectasis that isn’t severe enough to require a home treatment plan.
Surgery for mild atelectasis may be used to:
- Reduce the pressure in your lungs
- Open your airway
- Make it easier to breathe
These procedures are typically used in combination with other treatments.
Surgery for moderate or severe atelectasis
If your atelectasis is severe enough, you may require a surgical procedure to prevent it from getting worse.
The decision to use surgery is usually based on:
- Your atelectasis is severe enough to prevent you from breathing on your own.
- You’re unable to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream with oxygen therapy.
Surgery may be performed right after your diagnosis. Or, it may be performed later to improve lung function over time.
If you’re having trouble breathing, your doctor may also recommend a tracheotomy. This is a surgical procedure to help you breathe with a tube in your throat.
You can prevent atelectasis by avoiding certain activities and eating smaller meals. For example, you may be able to avoid lying down when you exhale by changing your posture more often.
You may also be able to prevent atelectasis by avoiding certain activities and eating smaller meals:
- Avoid activities that cause hyperinflation, such as heavy lifting, deep breathing, or sleeping in a reclined position. These activities can decrease your ability to inhale more air than you exhale.
- Eat smaller meals and avoid eating large meals. This can help you avoid large amounts of air in your stomach and intestines.
- Avoid getting up and moving around during sleep. This can cause your stomach to fill with air.
- Avoid sleeping on your back. This can cause you to exhale too much air, which can increase the risk of atelectasis.
Outcome of atelectasis
Having mild atelectasis or moderate or severe atelectasis doesn’t always mean you’ll need surgery, but it can be a serious condition.
If you have mild atelectasis, your atelectasis may be temporary and mild enough to resolve with conservative treatments.
Moderate or severe atelectasis
If your atelectasis is moderate or severe, your condition may be life threatening. You may need a surgical procedure to prevent atelectasis from getting worse.
Complications of atelectasis
Complications of atelectasis include:
- Pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot that travels through the bloodstream and travels to your lungs, where it blocks blood flow. This can cause extreme breathing difficulties and even death.
- Pulmonary hypertension. When your blood pressure is higher than normal, it can cause your blood vessels to rupture and leak blood. This can lead to serious complications.
- Cardiac arrest. This is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart stops beating.
- Pulmonary hypertension with right-sided heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension can cause right-sided heart failure. This may lead to a heart attack.
- Pulmonary embolism. When your blood clot moves to your lungs, it can cause severe breathing difficulties and breathing problems.
Complications of atelectasis may be life threatening. If you experience any complications due to atelectasis, seek emergency medical care.
Your outlook will depend on the severity of your atelectasis. The longer you have mild atelectasis, the more likely you are to have a full recovery.
Your doctor will likely recommend a surgical procedure if your atelectasis is severe.
What you can do now?
You may have atelectasis and need to take steps to prevent it from getting worse. You can do so safely at home by avoiding specific activities and eating smaller meals.
If you have mild atelectasis, you may not need to make any changes to your lifestyle. Your doctor will likely recommend a surgical procedure to improve your lung function.
However, if you have severe atelectasis, you may need to take steps to prevent it from getting worse.
You may need to make lifestyle changes and use a home treatment plan to help improve your breathing and increase your quality of life.
If you have atelectasis, you should see your doctor right away. If you don’t have a doctor, you should go to the emergency department if:
- You experience symptoms of an atelectasis.
- You have symptoms of a heart attack.
- You have symptoms of a stroke.
- You have symptoms that concern you.
Mild atelectasis is typically temporary. It may be caused by hyperinflation or apnea. Surgery is usually needed to treat mild atelectasis.
Moderate and severe atelectasis can be treated with surgery. You may also need a tracheotomy to help you breathe.
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