Question Of The Day #14

question of the day
question of the day 14
40.1 - Pneumothorax 1

Which of the following is the most appropriate treatment for this patient’s condition?

Anticoagulation (Choice A) would be the proper treatment for pulmonary embolism, NSTEMI/STEMI, and other conditions. This patient is dyspneic and hypoxemic on the exam, but his chest X-ray offers an alternative explanation for his symptoms. IV antibiotics (Choice D) would be helpful for pneumonia and COPD exacerbation, both of which are possible in this patient, but his chest X-ray offers an alternative explanation for his symptoms. Needle decompression of the left chest (Choice B) would be the appropriate initial treatment for a left-sided “tension” pneumothorax. This patient does have a large left-sided pneumothorax, but the X-ray lacks tracheal deviation, mediastinal shift, and left hemidiaphragm flattening, which can be attributed to tension pneumothorax. Most importantly, the patient lacks the hemodynamic instability that defines tension physiology (i.e. hypotension and tachycardia). In addition, the diagnosis and treatment of tension pneumothorax should be made clinically prior to chest radiography. Signs of hemodynamic instability along with tracheal deviation, absent unilateral lung sounds, and a history of trauma all support a diagnosis of tension pneumothorax. The treatment of a tension pneumothorax requires prompt recognition, needle decompression at the 3rd intercostal space at the midclavicular line, and a tube thoracostomy at the 4-5th intercostal space the anterior axillary line. The recommended needle decompression location is recently shifted to 4-5th intercostal space at the mid-anterior axillary line because the studies showed lower success rates in anterior – mid clavicular approach in adults. This patient has a spontaneous left-sided pneumothorax, not a tension pneumothorax. This is likely secondary to his coughing episodes and severe COPD. The treatment for this would be supplemental oxygen and the placement of a small-bore chest tube (i.e. “pig tail) in the left chest. Correct Answer: C. 


Smith LM, Mahler SA. Chest Pain. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Nickson, C. (2019) Pneumothorax CCC. Life in the Fastlane. Accessed August 17, 2020.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #14," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 25, 2020,, date accessed: April 20, 2021

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