Primary spontaneous pneumothorax typically develops when a weakened section of lung, known as a bulla, ruptures for no apparent reason, Merck Manual explains. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax may have the same underlying cause, but it usually affects seniors with existing lung complications, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cystic fibrosis. A rare spontaneous form, known as catamenial pneumothorax, mainly affects premenopausal women when uterine tissue travels to the lungs at the start of menstruation.
A pneumothorax is a collapsed lung, which occurs when excess air fills the pleural space between the lung and chest wall, according to WebMD. Increasing pressure against the lung prevents it from expanding, making it difficult for a person to breathe. Common symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain, which may progress rapidly if the pneumothorax is large. The most severe cases may cause shock, while a person with a mild pneumothorax may be unaware of it. Smoking is a high risk factor for developing the condition.
The severity of symptoms also depends on the strength of lung function before the spontaneous pneumothorax, Merck Manual states. Some individuals experience pain in the neck, shoulder or abdomen, a dry hacking cough or cardiac arrest. A large pneumothorax is capable of crushing blood vessels in the chest. However, in less severe cases, the lung may eventually absorb air from the pleural space, allowing the body to adapt to the pneumothorax. When necessary, doctors typically insert a chest tube or catheter to remove the excess air.