Pneumothorax

  • Etiology: barotrauma, blunt thoracic trauma
  • CXR upright: gravity drops lung inferiorly and medially and shows distinct pleural edge with no lung markings lateral to it
  • CXR decubitus: gravity drops lung inferiorly and shows distinct pleural edge with no lung markings superior to it
  • CXR cross-table lateral: gravity drops lung inferiorly and may show pleural edge with no lung markings anterior to it – but does not tell you which side the pneumothorax is on
  • CXR supine: gravity drops lung posteriorly and usually fails to reveal pleural edge, air accumulates anteromedially so pneumothorax can manifest itself as increased lucency throughout hemithorax / sharp heart border / deep sulcus sign = increased lucency in costophrenic angle / asymmetrical lucency of lungs
  • CT: most sensitive for detection of pneumothorax, useful in patients who can only lie supine, excellent for determining chest tube position
  • Note: if you suspect small pneumothorax on CXR supine get decubitus image with suspected side up to confirm
  • Note: tension pneumothorax is diagnosed when there is mediastinal shift which implies underlying tension
  • Complications: tension pneumothorax causes torquing of great vessels, vascular compromise, requires immediate treatment
  • Clinical: in premature infant lungs are stiff (noncompliant) so don’t collapse like adult lung

Cases of Pneumothorax

CXR of tension pneumothorax
AP CXR (above) shows increased lucency in the left hemithorax when compared to the right and a deep sulcus sign is seen. There is mediastinal shift to the right implying underlying tension. Right lateral decubitus CXR (below) shows a clear pleural edge.
CXR of pneumothorax
Upright CXR shows a distinct right pleural edge with no lung markings lateral to it and the right lung collapsing inferiorly and medially.
CXR of pneumothorax
Left lateral decubitus CXR shows a distinct left pleural edge with no lung markings superior to it and the left lung collapsing inferiorly.
CXR of pneumothorax
Cross-table lateral CXR shows air collecting anteriorly in the thorax without a clear pleural edge. The thymus is also outlined by air.
CXR of pneumothorax
Supine CXR shows multiple left-sided rib fractures and the deep sulcus sign which is increased lucency in the left costophrenic angle. No definite pleural edge is seen.
CXR of pneumothorax
Supine CXR shows the left mediastinal and cardiac border is much more sharp in appearance than the right mediastinal and cardiac border.
CXR of pneumothorax
Supine CXR shows a large amount of air in the right pleural space with inversion of the right hemidiaphragm and mediastinal shift to the left. There is also evidence of pulmonary interstitial emphysema in the right lung.
CXR and CT of pneumothorax and pulmonary contusion and rib fracture
CXR AP shows a widened mediastinum and a small right-sided pneumothorax. Axial CT with contrast of the chest with lung (above) and bone (below) windows shows air in the pleural space anterior to the right lung and fluid in the pleural space posterior to the right lung as well as airspace disease in the right lower lobe and a cortical disruption through one of the right ribs posteriorly.
CXR of tracheobronchial injury of left mainstem bronchus
CXR AP shows air in the superior mediastinum and neck, airspace disease in the left upper lobe, and a small amount of air in the left pleural space.
CXR of chest tube malfunction with chest tube in the subcutaneous tissues of the chest wall
CXR AP shows diffuse ground glass opacity throughout the lungs and a large amount of air in the right pleural space causing mediastinal shift to the left while the right-sided chest tube courses through the subcutaneous tissues of the right chest wall and never enters the right pleural space.
CT of chest tube malposition with chest tube in the lung parenchyma
Axial and coronal and sagittal CT with contrast of the chest shows a large amount of air in the left pleural space. The left chest tube is clearly located within the air space disease in the posterior left lung parenchyma in all three planes.
CXR of chest tube malposition with chest tube in the lung parenchyma
CXR AP (left) shows chronic interstitial fibrosis and scarring in the lungs, a left-sided chest tube, and a moderately-sized basilar left pleural air collection manifesting as a deep sulcus sign. Gross pathological specimen (right) shows the left chest tube entering the upper lobe of the left lung.
AXR of feeding tube in mainstem bronchus, lung and pleural space with tension pneumothorax
AXR obtained immediately after feeding tube placement (left) shows a feeding tube going down the left mainstem bronchus and then turning up into the lung and increased lucency in the left costophrenic angle presumably due to the feeding tube entering the left pleural space. AXR obtained a minute later after feeding tube repositioning (right) shows the tip of the feeding tube in the antrum of the stomach and a large left pleural air collection with mediastinal shift to the right.
CXR of endotracheal tube in the right mainstem bronchus and pneumothorax in a patient with respiratory distress syndrome
CXR AP shows an endotracheal tube with its tip projecting deep within the right mainstem bronchus. There is complete atelectasis of the left lung with no mediastinal shift. There is diffuse lucency in the right hemithorax which is also surrounding the right upper lobe.