- Posted April 7, 2012 by
What Is Subcutaneous Emphysema?
Usually when we hear or see the word, emphysema, our first thoughts go to the lung condition that is a result of cigarette smoking and often a precursor to lung cancer.
Subcutaneous emphysema may actually be defined as:
Subcutaneous - under the skin
Emphysema - air pocket
Therefore subcutaneous emphysema is air pockets under the skin. Often the condition is just called sub-cu.
There are various causes for sub-cu, but in my case it is a result of lung biopsy surgery coupled with a dual-tubed bronchoscopy. This is actually the least most common cause of sub-cu.
When doing the biopsy, there was an incision made into the lung wall. This created a hole which allowed the air from the lung to be pushed out into the pleura sac which surrounds the lung. The procedure resulted in a pneumothorax or collapsed lung. The air that escaped then made its way throughout my body and primarily noticeable in my neck and face giving me the puffer or blow fish look.
For years people have said I was full of it because of my brown eyes. Now with the sub-cu, people can claim I am also full of hot air.
The sub-cu in my situation is not necessarily dangerous, but needs monitored for awhile, which is why I am now in day 12 of my current hospital stay. Eventually the sub-cu will just be absorbed into my body...but until then there will be some discomfort, the bloated look and the sound of crispies crunching under the skin.
As the lung incision heals, the lung will begin to seal itself off and expand. Once the lung begins to expand, the need for a tube to help drain off the leakage both liquid and air will become less needed. After surgery I had three tubes in my right side. Within 36 hours two of those tubes were able to be removed. The lone tube left may be in me for awhile until the incision is completely healed. In the meantime, I get the pleasure of sub-cu.
Sub-cu is a rare condition. When it does occur, possible causes include:
Collapsed lung (pneumothorax), often occurring with a rib fracture
Facial bone fracture
Ruptured bronchial tube
This condition can happen due to:
Forceful vomiting" (Boerhaave's syndrome)
Gun shot wounds
Rarely after medical procedures such as endoscopy, a central venous line, intubation, and bronchoscopy
Air can also be found in between skin layers on the arms and legs or torso during certain infections, including gas gangrene.
So while sub-cu is slightly discerting to view and does provide a certan amount of discomfort, if monitored properly, there is nothing to worry about.
From the Cornfield, I may be full of it and be nothing but hot air right now...but this too shall pass.