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Pneumothorax is a common pathology, but optimal management strategies are not yet defined. There are significant differences in international guidelines and therefore variation in clinical practice.There is increasing interest in pneumothorax research, particularly primary spontaneous pneumothorax (PSP), with evidence of lung abnormalities in this group without clinically apparent lung disease and recently completed clinical trials aiming to optimize management. The most robust evidence base is that of the equivalence of needle aspiration and chest tube insertion for initial management of PSP; although, patients with secondary spontaneous pneumothorax may also benefit. A convincing case for surgical intervention or thoracoscopy and talc poudrage to prevent recurrence at first episode in PSP has yet to be made. Clinicians should be vigilant for PSP being the first manifestation of a systemic disease, and should have a low threshold for onward referral. Time to change guidelines? First, chest tube drainage and hospitalization without recurrence prevention should no longer be standard treatment, as this has no advantage over the less invasive manual aspiration, which moreover can be performed on an outpatient basis in an important number of patients. The results of recent trials in conservative and ambulatory management are eagerly awaited. Second, shared decision-making should become more important with the well-informed patient, who may want to avoid a 1 in 3 recurrence rate and therefore will have the possibility to choose treatment including recurrence prevention even after the first episode of PSP. Third, surgical research should urgently make clear if the current practice of resection of emphysema-like changes is routinely necessary, alongside pleurodesis. Future studies should utilize risk stratification by clinical and radiological parameters (e.g., high-resolution computed tomography scanning and digital air leak monitoring) to predict short- and long-term outcomes, and hence personalize management.

Original publication




Journal article


Seminars in respiratory and critical care medicine

Publication Date





314 - 322


Respiratory Trials Unit, Oxford Centre for Respiratory Disease, Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford, UK, Churchill Hospital, NHS Trust, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Humans, Pneumothorax, Thoracoscopy, Drainage, Pleurodesis, Ambulatory Care, Thoracotomy, Chest Tubes, Patient Participation, Practice Guidelines as Topic, Thoracentesis