Atelectasis in Infants
by Pamela Jones, MA
Atelectasis is a collapse in part of the lungs. Normally, air passes through the airways into small sacs of the lungs. Oxygen from the air passes through these sacs into the blood. Carbon dioxide also passes from the blood to the sacs to leave the body. With atelectasis, these sacs are collapsed. Oxygen and carbon dioxide cannot pass through the collapsed sacs.
A collapse over large areas of the lungs can lead to serious problems. In infants, atelectasis may be:
Atelectasis is not a disease. It is the result of a disease or abnormality in the body. It can be caused by:
Factors that increase the chance of congenital atelectasis include:
Children under 3 years old are more likely to develop atelectasis than older children or adults. Factors that may increase your baby’s chance of atelectasis include:
Atelectasis may not have obvious symptoms.
Larger areas of atelectasis may lead to:
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to breath sounds.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with:
A bronchoscopy may be done if an obstruction is a possibility. This is an exam of the lungs with a small tube.
Treatment will be based on the cause of the atelectasis. Some oxygen or breathing support may also be needed until the problem resolves. Treatment options include:
Steps will be taken to remove any blockage that is causing the problem.
A bronchoscopy may be done to remove an inhaled object. A thin tube-shaped tool called a bronchoscope is used. It is passed down the throat and into the lungs. Small tools can be passed through the bronchoscope to remove the object.
A bronchoscopy may also be done to remove a mucus plug.
Chest therapy can be used to help move mucus out of the lungs. There are a few different types that may be used. One option uses a rhythmic tapping on the back and chest. Certain positions will also use gravity to help mucus flow out of the body. Your baby may be placed in special positions to help move mucus out of the lungs.
This may include any or all of the following:
Medications may help to improve breathing or treat the underlying condition. Medications may help to:
Oxygen may be needed to support your baby during recovery.
Not all atelectasis can be prevented. To help reduce your baby’s chance of atelectasis, take these steps:
Some medical conditions or treatments increase your baby’s risk of atelectasis. Steps will be taken to prevent atelectasis such as:
American Lung Association
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
Braverman M, Brown S. Congenital Atelectasis Discussion and Case Presentation. Radiology. December 2012, 265(3);1144.
Collapsed lung (atelectasis). Cedars-Sinai website. Available at:
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Accessed September 25, 2017.
What is atelectasis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
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Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 8/21/2014
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