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Subcutaneous emphysema: causes and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

The skin is an organ made up of multiple layers that can vary according to its thickness and color and have glands and hairs. The most superficial layer is the epidermis, followed by an intermediate layer called the dermis and a deeper layer called the hypodermis. The deepest layer is also called the subcutaneous tissue, which allows the skin to move, and inside, it contains a series of structures such as nerves, blood vessels, and glands. Like any part of the body, the hypodermis is susceptible to diseases, one of which could be subcutaneous emphysema, a condition in which air is trapped in this layer of the skin, producing a series of symptoms. Next in this FastlyHealarticle, we will discuss subcutaneous emphysema: causes and treatment.

What is subcutaneous emphysema?

Subcutaneous emphysema is a smooth-looking lump or swelling on the skin caused by air penetration into the tissues. It is more common to see this type of emphysema on the skin that lines the rib cage, face, or neck, although it can also be seen in other regions of the human body.

When you have emphysema, you will be able to observe a series of clinical manifestations such as swelling or inflammation of the area or pain and other characteristics, thanks to which it can be diagnosed correctly. However, in other circumstances, it is often difficult to analyze since the signs and symptoms of this condition are not perceived. It is a generally aesthetic problem, and it does not usually have complications unless it is a severe case with a possible inconvenience.

Causes of subcutaneous emphysema

The causes of subcutaneous emphysema can be diverse; a complication can even generate its appearance during a procedure in which health is altered, causing an increase in pulmonary pressure in the tissues; however, the most common causes of subcutaneous emphysema are the following:

  • Trauma: Injuries such as firearms or sharp objects.
  • Fractures such as the facial bone.
  • Lung or esophagus ruptures.
  • Excessive pressure due to severe vomiting (Boerhaave syndrome).
  • Infections such as gas gangrene.
  • For dental procedures through equipment containing compressed air.
  • After laparoscopic surgery, such as appendicitis.

Symptoms of subcutaneous emphysema

The doctor will detect the presence of pulmonary emphysema first by clinical inspection and followed by palpation in which the lump is determined. During palpation, there will be a sensation known as crackling or cracking, a product of the push of air into the tissues. In addition to this, the inflammation or swelling of the area and even the entire face will be observed, commonly in the neck, which is the place with the highest frequency of appearance. The affected person refers to having chest pain due to its location in the rib cage or pain in the throat when it is located in the neck.

When subcutaneous emphysema causes swelling in the neck area, it will, in turn, cause difficulty in swallowing due to the sensation of pain. Added to this are:

  • Wheezing when the person breathes.
  • Changes in voice
  • Difficulty breathing.

Treatment of subcutaneous emphysema

This disease is considered benign and generally does not have complications in most cases. This condition usually does not need treatment, except for the treatment of the underlying causes that may originate it, in addition to controlling other symptoms that may appear, such as asthma, general malaise, and respiratory problems.

When there is a complication known as massive subcutaneous emphysema, a more complex procedure such as surgical drainage will be required. If this emphysema becomes severe, catheters can be used on the skin to release compressed air.

Making minor cuts in the affected skin helps improve the condition by eliminating the air contained in the area. Drugs should be used to relieve the pain generated as an additional symptom. In severe cases with shortness of breath, supplemental oxygen will be administered; this also helps the body absorb air under the skin quickly. If emphysema causes necrosis in certain regions, decompression is necessary.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Subcutaneous Emphysema: causes and treatment , we recommend that you enter our Skin, hair and nails category .

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