What is pneumomediastinum?

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Pneumomediastinum: Overview

Pneumomediastinum (say "noo-moh-MEE-dee-yuh-STY-num") is the leakage of air into a space between the lungs (mediastinum). As air builds up in this space in your chest, you may have shortness of breath or chest pain that moves to your neck or arm.

Most cases get better on their own. But if there are problems, you may need to breathe oxygen through a face mask, or have a tube placed in your chest, to help you heal. It can take several days for the leaked air to be reabsorbed by your body, and you may need more treatment.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

How can you care for yourself when you have pneumomediastinum?

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep. You may feel weak and tired for a while, but your energy level will improve with time.
  • To relieve chest pain, especially when you cough, press a pillow against your chest.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed:
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you go home with a chest tube in place, follow your doctor's directions.
    • Do not adjust the tube in any way. This could break the seal or cause other problems.
    • Keep the tube dry.
  • If you have a bandage over where a chest tube was inserted, keep it clean and dry. Follow your doctor's instructions on bandage care.
  • Avoid any movements that make you strain your muscles. Try not to cough, laugh hard, or lift anything heavy.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Pneumomediastinum: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe chest pain.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You have new or worse chest pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You are bleeding through the bandage where the tube was put in.
  • Your chest tube comes out or is bent or blocked.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.