Learn About Subcutaneous Emphysema

What is the definition of Subcutaneous Emphysema?

Subcutaneous emphysema occurs when air gets into tissues under the skin. This most often occurs in the skin covering the chest or neck, but can also occur in other parts of the body.

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What are the alternative names for Subcutaneous Emphysema?

Crepitus; Subcutaneous air; Tissue emphysema; Surgical emphysema

What is some background information about Subcutaneous Emphysema?

Subcutaneous emphysema can often be seen as a smooth bulging of the skin. When a health care provider feels (palpates) the skin, it produces an unusual crackling sensation (crepitus) as the gas is pushed through the tissue.

What are the causes of Subcutaneous Emphysema?

This is a rare condition. When it does occur, possible causes include:

  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax), often occurring with a rib fracture
  • Facial bone fracture
  • Rupture or tear in the airway
  • Rupture or tear in the esophagus or gastrointestinal tract

This condition can happen due to:

  • Blunt trauma.
  • Blast injuries.
  • Breathing in cocaine.
  • Corrosives or chemical burns of the esophagus or airway.
  • Diving injuries.
  • Forceful vomiting (Boerhaave syndrome).
  • Penetrating trauma, such as gunshot or stab wounds.
  • Pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Certain medical procedures that insert a tube into the body. These include endoscopy (tube into the esophagus and the stomach through the mouth), a central venous line (thin catheter into a vein close to the heart), endotracheal intubation (tube into the throat and trachea through the mouth or nose), and bronchoscopy (tube into the bronchial tubes through the mouth).

Air can also be found in between skin layers on the arms and legs or torso after certain infections, including gas gangrene, or after scuba diving. (Scuba divers with asthma are more likely to have this problem than other scuba divers.)

When should I contact a medical professional for Subcutaneous Emphysema?

Most of the conditions that cause subcutaneous emphysema are severe, and you are likely already being treated by a provider. Sometimes a hospital stay is needed. This is more likely if the problem is due to an infection.

If you feel subcutaneous air in relation to any of the situations described above, particularly after trauma, call 911 or your local emergency services number immediately.

DO NOT administer any fluids. DO NOT move the person unless it is absolutely necessary to remove them from a hazardous environment. Protect the neck and back from further injury when doing so.

What should I expect during a doctor appointment?

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including:

  • Oxygen saturation
  • Temperature
  • Pulse
  • Breathing rate
  • Blood pressure

Symptoms will be treated as needed. The person may receive:

  • Airway and/or breathing support -- including oxygen via external delivery device or endotracheal intubation (placement of a breathing tube through the mouth or nose into the airway) with placement on a ventilator (life support breathing machine)
  • Blood tests
  • Chest tube -- tube through the skin and muscles between the ribs into the pleural space (space between the chest wall and the lung) if there is lung collapse
  • CAT/CT scan (computerized axial tomography or advanced imaging) of the chest and abdomen or area with the subcutaneous air
  • ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
  • X-rays of chest and abdomen and other body parts that may have been injured

The prognosis depends on the cause of the subcutaneous emphysema. If associated with major trauma, a procedure or infection, the severity of those conditions will determine the outcome.

Subcutaneous emphysema associated with scuba diving is most often less serious.

Who are the top Subcutaneous Emphysema Local Doctors?
Elite
Highly rated in
6
conditions

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham, ENG, GB 

Robert Stockley is in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Stockley is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Subcutaneous Emphysema. He is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Subcutaneous Emphysema, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, Emphysema, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD.

Elite
Highly rated in
5
conditions

University Of Pavia

Pavia, IT 

Ilaria Ferrarotti is in Pavia, Italy. Ferrarotti is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Subcutaneous Emphysema. She is also highly rated in 5 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Emphysema, Subcutaneous Emphysema, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD.

 
 
 
 
Learn about our expert tiers
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Elite
Highly rated in
3
conditions
Pulmonary Medicine

National Jewish Health - Pulmonology Department

1400 Jackson St 
Denver, CO 80206

Robert Sandhaus is a Pulmonary Medicine doctor in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Sandhaus has been practicing medicine for over 46 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Subcutaneous Emphysema. He is also highly rated in 3 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Subcutaneous Emphysema, Emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD, and Bronchiectasis. He is licensed to treat patients in Colorado and Florida. Dr. Sandhaus is currently accepting new patients.

What are the latest Subcutaneous Emphysema Clinical Trials?
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Adult Clinical and Genetic Linkage Study
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COPD Exacerbation Blood and Urine Biomarkers Study
What are the Latest Advances for Subcutaneous Emphysema?
A Rare Complication during Vaginal Delivery, Hamman's Syndrome: A Case Report and Systematic Review of Case Reports.
Successful Management Foreign Body Aspiration Associated with Severe Respiratory Distress and Subcutaneous Emphysema: Case Report and Literature Review.
Tired of the same old research?
Check Latest Advances
Hyperbaric oxygen for the treatment of severe subcutaneous and mediastinal emphysema after Renuvion/J-Plasma therapy®.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : July 01, 2020
Published By : Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Byyny RL, Shockley LW. Scuba diving and dysbarism. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 135.

Cheng G-S, Varghese TK, Park DR. Pneumomediastinum and mediastinitis. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 84.

Kosowsky JM, Kimberly HH. Pleural disease. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 67.

Raja AS. Thoracic trauma. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 38.