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Occult pneumothorax, revisited

Author(s): Omar Hesham | Abdelmalak Hany | Mangar Devanand | Rashad Rania | Helal Engy | Camporesi Enrico

Journal: Journal of Trauma Management & Outcomes
ISSN 1752-2897

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 12;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Abstract Pneumothorax is a recognized cause of preventable death following chest wall trauma where a simple intervention can be life saving. In cases of trauma patients where cervical spine immobilization is mandatory, supine AP chest radiograph is the most practical initial study. It is however not as sensitive as CT chest for early detection of a pneumothorax. "Occult" pneumothorax is an accepted definition of an existing but usually a clinically and radiologically silent disturbance that in most patients can be tolerated while other more urgent trauma needs are attended to. However, in certain patients, especially those on mechanical ventilation (with subsequent increase of intrapleural air with positive pressure ventilation), missing the diagnosis of pneumothorax can be deleterious with fatal consequences. This review will discuss the occult pneumothorax in the context of 3 radiological examples, which will further emphasize the entity. Because a negative AP chest radiograph can dangerously delay its recognition, we recommend that any trauma victim presenting to the emergency department with symptoms of respiratory distress should be screened with either thoracic ultrasonography or chest CT scan to avoid missing a pneumothorax.
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