Tension pneumothorax

(Redirected from Tension Pneumothorax)


  • Death occurs from hypoxic respiratory arrest (V-Q mismatch), not circulatory arrest

Clinical Features

  • Unilateral diminished or absent breath sounds
  • Hypotension or evidence of hypoperfusion
  • Distended neck veins
    • May not occur if patient is hypovolemic
  • Contralateral Tracheal deviation (late sign)
  • Type of obstructive shock since prevents venous return to the right side of the heart

Differential Diagnosis

Pneumothorax Types

The pleural cavity is normally a potential space, in which air collects in a pneumothorax.

Thoracic Trauma

Acute dyspnea




Left sided tension pneumothorax with mediastinal shift

Ideally a clinical diagnosis treated emergently (without delay for studies)

Lung ultrasound of pneumothorax

  • No lung sliding seen (not specific for pneumothorax)
  • May also identify "lung point": distinct point where you no longer see lung sliding (pathognomonic)
  • Absence of lung sliding WITHOUT lung point could represent apnea or right mainstem intubation
  • Evaluate other intercostal spaces because pneumothorax may only be seen in least dependent area of thorax
    • NO comet tail artifact
    • Bar Code appearance/"Stratosphere" sign on M-mode (absence of "seashore" waves)
  • Ultrasound has greater sensitivity than chest x-ray for pneumothorax in trauma patients [1]


  • Immediate needle thoracostomy
    • 14ga IV in midclavicular line just above the rib at the second intercostal space
    • Evidence suggests lowest failure rate of needle decompression is at the 4th/5th rib space along the anterior axillary line [2]
  • Always followed by Chest Tube placement

Pediatric Chest Tube

  • Estimated as 4*ETT
    • ETT=(4+age/4)

Adult Chest Tube Sizes

Chest Tube Size Type of Patient Underlying Causes
Small (8-14 Fr)
  • Alveolar-pleural fistulae (small air leak)
  • Iatrogenic air
Medium (20-28 Fr)
  • Trauma/bleeding (hemothorax/hemopneumothorax)
  • Bronchial-pleural fistulae (large air leak)
  • Malignant fluid
Large (36-40 Fr)
  • Thick pus


  • Admit

Special Instructions


  • Can consider flying 2 weeks after full resolution of traumatic pneumothroax[5]


See Also


  1. Nagarsheth K, Kurek S. Ultrasound detection of pneumothorax compared with chest X-ray and computed tomography scan. Am Surg. 2011 Apr;77(4):480-4. PMID: 21679560.
  2. Laan DV et al. Chest Wall Thickness and Decompression Failure: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Coparing Anatomic Locations in Needle Thoracostomy. Injury 2015 [Epub Ahead of Print]. PMID: 26724173
  3. Inaba Et. al J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012 Feb;72(2):422-7.
  4. Advanced Trauma Life Support® Update 2019: Management and Applications for Adults and Special Populations.
  5. "Management of spontaneous pneumothorax: British Thoracic Society pleural disease guideline 2010" British Thoracic Society Guidelines. Thorax 2010;65:ii18-ii31 doi:10.1136/thx.2010.136986 PDF