The number of medical emergencies onboard aircraft is increasing as commercial air traffic increases and the general population ages, becomes more mobile, and includes individuals with serious medical conditions. Travelers with respiratory diseases are at particular risk for in-flight events because exposure to lower atmospheric pressure in a pressurized cabin at cruising altitude may result in not only hypoxemia but also pneumothorax due to gas expansion within enclosed pulmonary parenchymal spaces based on Boyle's law. Risks of pneumothorax during air travel pertain particularly to those patients with cystic lung diseases, recent pneumothorax or thoracic surgery, and chronic pneumothorax. Currently available guidelines are admittedly based on sparse data and include recommendations to delay air travel for 1 to 3 weeks after thoracic surgery or resolution of the pneumothorax. One of these guidelines declares existing pneumothorax to be an absolute contraindication to air travel although there are reports of uneventful air travel for those with chronic stable pneumothorax. In this article, we review the available data regarding pneumothorax and air travel that consist mostly of case reports and retrospective surveys. There is clearly a need for additional data that will inform decisions regarding air travel for patients at risk for pneumothorax, including those with recent thoracic surgery and transthoracic needle biopsy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
- Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine