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Subcutaneous emphysema

Definition

Subcutaneous emphysema occurs when air gets into tissues under the skin covering the chest wall or neck.

Alternative Names

Crepitus; Subcutaneous air; Tissue emphysema

Considerations

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 as the gas is pushed through the tissue.

Common Causes

This 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
  • Ruptured esophagus

This condition can happen due to:

  • Blunt trauma
  • Gun shot wounds
  • Stabbing

Air can also be found in between skin layers on the arms and legs or torso during certain infections, including gas gangrene.

Call your health care provider if

Most of the conditions that cause subcutaneous emphysema are very severe. Sometimes a hospital stay is needed. Medical staff should already be involved in most cases.


Review Date: 10/13/2008
Reviewed By: John E. Duldner, Jr., MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Director of Research, Department of Emergency Medicine, Akron General Medical Center and Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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