By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Partial or total collapse of lung or a part of a lung is called atelectasis. There are many small air sacs within the lungs. They are called alveoli. This condition occurs when these sacs get deflated or filled with fluid.
‘When some of your alveoli don’t fill with air, it’s called atelectasis’ (Read more)
The alveoli as a result do not expand the way they should when you breathe. Atelectasis may involve small or large portions of the lung. This totally depends on what causes the condition.
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Table of Contents
Many times there may be no obvious signs and symptoms.
When many alveoli are involved or when atelectasis occurs quickly, enough oxygen will not come to the blood. Many symptoms may be caused due to low blood oxygen. The commons symptoms are –
Note – Severe trouble in breathing is an alarming sign. When it occurs one should seek immediate medical attention.
Causes of atelectasis can be broadly of two kinds –
1. Obstructive – occurs due to blocked airway. Few examples include –
2. Non-obstructive – occurs due to pressure on the airway from outside the lung. The below mentioned are common –
Apart from these, atelectasis can also be caused due to the effect of general anesthesia. Varying amount of atelectasis develops in almost everyone who has undergone major surgery.
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Types are broadly the same as mentioned in the causes i.e. obstructive and non-obstructive.
Non-obstructive Atelectasis is again of the below mentioned subtypes –
Relaxation or compressive – fluid or air building up between your chest wall lining and lung surface pulls the lungs inward. With this the alveoli lose air. Depending on the location of pathology it is either relaxation or compressive atelectasis
Adhesive – the alveoli will collapse if the surfactant is not made sufficiently.
Cicatricial – when the lung tissue has scars it does not hold as much air as they should. This can be seen in conditions like sarcoidosis.
Replacement – when alveoli are filled with tumor, particular area of the lung collapses.
Acceleration – the acceleration of jet planes can close the airways in the lungs. It causes difficulty in breathing, chest pain and cough.
Rounded (folded lung) – this is linked to pleural diseases. Asbestosis is one of the most common causes for this condition. (Read more)
Atelectasis as a complication
It occurs as a complication of other respiratory problems like –
It also occurs as a complication after surgery and when one breathes in a foreign object.
The below mentioned factors puts you at the risk of developing atelectasis:
In children – keep the small objects out of reach. Keep an eye on children playing with toys and having pieces of nuts or hard eatables around them.
If a surgery has been planned, one should talk to the doctor about the post operative care and precautions to be taken to avoid these conditions. According to some research works, some kinds of breathing exercises and muscle training have reduced the risk of developing post-surgical atelectasis. The doctor / surgeon may help you in this regard.
You can use a spirometer as directed by your physician. It will promote proper breathing.
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Atelectasis is diagnosed following a thorough examination by a doctor. Plain chest X-ray will suffice for the diagnosis. The below mentioned tests may help to confirm the diagnosis or to determine the type and severity of the condition.
Principles – Treatment depends on the cause and severity of atelectasis.
Chest physiotherapy – include techniques which help in breathing deeply after surgery. These would help to re-expand the collapsed lung tissue.
Surgery – The mucus is sucked or bronchoscopy conducted to remove the obstructions in the airway. Removal or shrinkage of tumor with or without radiation or chemotherapy is essential if tumor is involved in blocking the airways.
Breathing treatments – Sometimes a breathing tube may be needed. CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) will be needed when people cannot cough and have low oxygen after surgery.
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Atelectasis cannot be compared to any single disorder explained in Ayurveda texts. Seeing the etiology and the pattern in which this disease develops and the range of symptoms it causes we can closely correlate atelectasis to few conditions explained in Ayurveda.
From the perspective of causes
1. Among the causes for obstructive atelectasis, the mucus plugs can be compared to increased kapha in the lungs. Chest is said to be the most important location of kapha and lungs are also located in chest cavity. Therefore there are more chances for kapha to undergo pathological increase in this region. Dyspnea and cough are mentioned among the signs of increase of kapha. These symptoms are also found in atelectasis. Kapha is made up of earth and water elements. When the earth element is proportionally increased the kapha tends to get hard and thick and forms plugs leading to blockage of airways.
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2. Among the non-obstructive causes –
From the perspective of symptoms
From the perspective of complications
Hypoxemia, pneumonia and respiratory failure are the most important complications of atelectasis. These stages are difficult to handle as the symptoms are sever and aggressive. The symptoms of these conditions are probably collectively explained in the symptoms of vitiation of Pranavaha Srotas i.e. channels carrying vital life force or oxygen. They are – prolonged breathing, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, frequent and interrupted breathing, highly disturbed breathing patterns which look scary, abnormal sounds during breathing and painful breathing.
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These symptoms explain the complicated stage of atelectasis.
The complications of atelectasis leading to severe complications or at times death can be said to be due to injury of Sthanamula Marma located in the chest. These are the vital points located one on either side in the chest cavity, close to the lungs. Injury to this marma is said to cause cough severe breathlessness and gradual death. These marmas are anatomically compared to the lungs and base of the lungs.
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Treatment of atelectasis with Ayurveda interventions shall be done on the lines of one of the above said conditions mentioned above after having understood the causes and symptoms of atelectasis in an Ayurveda way. Many times combination of formulations and therapies will be needed. Depending on the cause and condition of atelectasis the treatment principles of the below mentioned conditions shall be skillfully administered.