EMS BLS Pneumothorax and Hemothorax – The long Version

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Welcome to podcast on Pneumothorax and hemothorax, tailored specifically for advanced and primary care paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). In this podcast, we delve into the essential aspects of hemothorax, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment modalities. Whether you’re a seasoned paramedic seeking a refresher or an EMT looking to expand your knowledge, this resource provides valuable insights into recognizing and managing hemothorax in prehospital and emergency care settings. Stay tuned as we explore the best practices and interventions for addressing this critical condition aimed at optimizing patient outcomes and ensuring efficient emergency response.

Always follow your local protocols, policies, and procedures.

Video Notes – Pneumothorax

Understanding Pneumothorax: Types, Causes, and Treatment

Pneumothorax is a medical condition characterized by the presence of air in the pleural space surrounding the lungs. This condition can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening respiratory compromise, making it essential for individuals to understand its different types, causes, and treatment options. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into primary pneumothorax, secondary spontaneous pneumothorax, traumatic pneumothorax, open pneumothorax, closed pneumothorax, and tension pneumothorax, drawing insights from expert knowledge and clinical experience.

Primary Pneumothorax

Primary pneumothorax, also known as spontaneous pneumothorax, occurs in otherwise healthy individuals without underlying lung disease. It typically arises due to the rupture of small air-filled sacs called blebs or bullae on the lung surface. These blebs can rupture spontaneously, leading to the escape of air into the pleural space. Primary pneumothorax often presents with sudden-onset chest pain, shortness of breath, and decreased breath sounds on auscultation. Treatment may involve observation, needle aspiration, or chest tube insertion to evacuate the trapped air and re-expand the collapsed lung.

Secondary Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax occurs in individuals with pre-existing lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or cystic fibrosis. These underlying lung diseases weaken the lung tissue, making it more susceptible to air leakage. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax can be triggered by factors such as severe coughing episodes or sudden changes in airway pressure. Management involves addressing the underlying lung disease and treating the pneumothorax with interventions such as chest tube insertion and supplemental oxygen therapy.

Traumatic Pneumothorax

Traumatic pneumothorax occurs as a result of chest trauma, either penetrating or blunt force trauma. Penetrating injuries, such as gunshot wounds or stab wounds, can directly puncture the lung, allowing air to escape into the pleural space. Blunt force trauma, such as rib fractures, can cause lung tissue to tear, leading to pneumothorax. Traumatic pneumothorax may present with chest pain, difficulty breathing, and signs of shock. Immediate treatment is necessary to stabilize the patient’s condition and prevent further lung collapse.

Open Pneumothorax

Open pneumothorax, also known as sucking chest wound, occurs when there is a communication between the pleural space and the external environment, typically due to a penetrating chest injury. This communication allows air to enter the pleural space during inspiration and exit during expiration, leading to respiratory compromise. Open pneumothorax is characterized by the presence of a visible chest wound with paradoxical chest wall movement. Treatment involves sealing the wound with an occlusive dressing to prevent further air entry and stabilizing the patient’s condition.

Closed Pneumothorax

Closed pneumothorax occurs when there is no communication between the pleural space and the external environment. This type of pneumothorax can result from spontaneous bleb rupture or traumatic chest injuries that do not penetrate the chest wall. Closed pneumothorax may present with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and diminished breath sounds on auscultation. Treatment typically involves observation, chest X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, and interventions such as needle aspiration or chest tube insertion if necessary.

Tension Pneumothorax

Tension pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition that occurs when air continues to accumulate in the pleural space, leading to increasing pressure within the chest cavity. This increased pressure compresses the affected lung and mediastinal structures, compromising cardiac output and causing respiratory distress. Tension pneumothorax may present with severe chest pain, dyspnea, tachycardia, and hypotension. Immediate treatment is necessary, including needle decompression or chest tube insertion, to release the trapped air and relieve pressure on the lungs and heart.

Treating an open pneumothorax

Treating an open pneumothorax, also known as a sucking chest wound, requires prompt and decisive action to prevent further complications and stabilize the patient’s condition. The primary goal of treatment is to seal the chest wound to prevent air from entering the pleural space during inspiration, while still allowing air to escape during expiration to relieve pressure on the affected lung.

One of the first steps in treating an open pneumothorax is to cover the wound with an occlusive dressing. This dressing should be large enough to completely cover the wound and should be sealed on three sides to create a flutter valve effect. This allows air to exit the chest cavity during expiration but prevents air from entering during inspiration. Occlusive dressings such as petroleum gauze or a commercial chest seal can effectively seal the wound and stabilize the patient’s condition.

In addition to applying an occlusive dressing, it is crucial to monitor the patient’s respiratory status closely and provide supplemental oxygen therapy as needed to optimize oxygenation. Paramedics should also be prepared to provide supportive measures such as fluid resuscitation and pain management, depending on the patient’s overall condition. Transporting the patient to a medical facility for further evaluation and definitive treatment is essential to ensure comprehensive care and prevent complications associated with an open pneumothorax.

Treating tension pneumothorax is a critical emergency intervention aimed at rapidly relieving the accumulating pressure within the pleural space to prevent further deterioration of the patient’s condition. Tension pneumothorax occurs when air continues to accumulate in the pleural cavity, causing increased pressure that compresses the affected lung and shifts the mediastinal structures, including the heart and major blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular compromise and respiratory distress.

Treatment for tension pneumothorax

The primary treatment for tension pneumothorax involves immediate needle decompression followed by definitive chest tube insertion. Paramedics must recognize the signs and symptoms of tension pneumothorax promptly, including severe dyspnea, tachycardia, hypotension, tracheal deviation, and absent breath sounds on the affected side. Upon suspicion of tension pneumothorax, paramedics should initiate needle decompression by inserting a large-bore needle (usually 14 to 16 gauge) into the second intercostal space at the midclavicular line on the affected side. This needle decompression creates a temporary vent for trapped air, relieving pressure on the affected lung and allowing for immediate improvement in the patient’s respiratory and hemodynamic status.

.Close monitoring of the patient’s vital signs, respiratory status, and chest tube drainage is essential to ensure adequate treatment response and identify any potential complications promptly. Transporting the patient to a medical facility for further evaluation and definitive management is crucial to address the underlying cause of tension pneumothorax and prevent recurrence or complications.

Video Notes – Hemothorax

Understanding Hemothorax: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Hemothorax is a serious medical condition characterized by the accumulation of blood in the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. It can result from various causes, ranging from traumatic injuries to underlying medical conditions, and requires prompt recognition and treatment to prevent complications and optimize patient outcomes. In this comprehensive pod cast, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment modalities associated with hemothorax, drawing insights from expert knowledge and clinical experience.

Causes of Hemothorax

Hemothorax can arise from both traumatic and non-traumatic causes. Traumatic hemothorax occurs as a result of chest trauma, including penetrating injuries such as gunshot or stab wounds, or blunt force trauma such as rib fractures stabbing, and gun shoot wounds. These injuries can lead to damage to blood vessels within the pleural space, causing hemorrhage and the accumulation of blood. Non-traumatic hemothorax may occur secondary to underlying medical conditions such as malignancies, pulmonary embolism, or coagulopathies, which disrupt normal blood clotting mechanisms and predispose to bleeding into the pleural cavity.

Symptoms and Clinical Presentation

The clinical presentation of hemothorax may vary depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Common symptoms include chest pain, dyspnea (shortness of breath), tachypnea (rapid breathing), and decreased breath sounds on auscultation of the affected side. Patients with hemothorax may also exhibit signs of hypovolemic shock, including tachycardia, hypotension, and pallor, due to significant blood loss into the pleural space. In severe cases, patients may experience altered mental status, diaphoresis (excessive sweating), and peripheral cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin).

Diagnosis and Evaluation

In the field diagnosing hemothorax typically involves a combination of clinical assessment, history, and vital signs. Physical examination may reveal dullness to percussion over the affected hemithorax, indicative of fluid accumulation, as well as decreased or absent breath sounds on auscultation.

Treatment Modalities

Treatment for hemothorax at the BLS level is supportive care to stabilize the patient, control bleeding any external bleeding, and oxygenation ventilation supports starting with oxygen to assisting with ventilation with a BVM and oxygen . Hemothorax may require supportive measures such as oxygen therapy, intravenous fluid resuscitation, to address hypoxemia and hypovolemia. Close monitoring of the patient’s vital signs, respiratory status, and hemodynamic parameters is essential throughout the treatment process to ensure adequate response and identify any potential complications promptly.


Hemothorax is a significant medical emergency that requires prompt recognition and appropriate management to prevent complications and optimize patient outcomes. By understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment modalities associated with hemothorax, paramedics can effectively assess and intervene in cases of suspected or confirmed hemothorax, providing timely and comprehensive care to affected individuals. Continued education, training, and collaboration among multidisciplinary healthcare teams are essential for improving patient outcomes and reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with hemothorax.

If you’re seeking a deeper understanding of how the body maintains homeostasis through perfusion and the mechanisms underlying shock, we encourage you to explore our Shock Blocks Course.