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Pneumatocele Workup

  • Author: Denise Serebrisky, MD; Chief Editor: Michael R Bye, MD  more...
Updated: Jan 31, 2016

Laboratory Studies

If findings are positive, blood culture helps to guide antibiotic therapy in patients with pneumatocele. If sputum is available, this is a good noninvasive method to discover potential pathogens. If effusion is present, culturing pleural fluid from thoracentesis can be a direct method to identify the causative organism. Tests for bacterial antigen detection can be performed on blood, urine and pleural fluid.


Imaging Studies

Initial chest radiography often reveals pneumonia without evidence of a pneumatocele. Parapneumonic effusion or empyema can be present. Radiographic evidence of a pneumatocele most often occurs on day 5-7 of hospitalization. Rarely, it may be visible on the initial chest radiograph. Chest radiograph findings are shown in the images below.

Pneumonia with multiple pneumatoceles. Pneumonia with multiple pneumatoceles.
Pneumonia with pneumatocele (lateral). Pneumonia with pneumatocele (lateral).
Resolving pneumatocele. Resolving pneumatocele.

Usually, chest CT scanning with contrast is not necessary to diagnose a pneumatocele, but CT scanning occasionally helps to differentiate an abscess from a pneumatocele (see the image below).

Chest CT scan of pneumonia with pneumatocele. Chest CT scan of pneumonia with pneumatocele.

Rarely, CT-guided needle aspiration of the pneumatocele can relieve compression from a large and/or tension pneumatocele.


Other Tests

No other specific tests are necessary.



Percutaneous catheter drainage should only be considered for a significant tension pneumatocele or a secondarily infected pneumatocele. In these rare situations, drainage has been reported to dramatically improve the patient's cardiovascular status.[14, 15]


Histologic Findings

Pathology is not commonly observed because most pneumatoceles resolve without surgical resection. However, a few reports documented necrotic material around the pneumatocele. Cavity walls can contain organized inflammatory cells with focal collections of multinucleated giant cells. In 1972, Boisset reported the presence of air corridors between the bronchiolar lumen and the interstitial space.[7]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Denise Serebrisky, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Director, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Lewis M Fraad Department of Pediatrics, Jacobi Medical Center/North Central Bronx Hospital; Director, Jacobi Asthma and Allergy Center for Children, Jacobi Medical Center

Denise Serebrisky, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Arthur B Atlas, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Arthur B Atlas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, Medical Society of New Jersey

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from astra zeneca for none.

Debra Boyer, MD Fellow, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Children's Hospital of Boston

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Charles Callahan, DO Professor, Chief, Department of Pediatrics and Pediatric Pulmonology, Tripler Army Medical Center

Charles Callahan, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, American Thoracic Society, Association of Military Surgeons of the US, Christian Medical and Dental Associations

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Michael R Bye, MD Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Pediatric Pulmonary Division, Women's and Children's Hospital of Buffalo

Michael R Bye, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Girish D Sharma, MD, FCCP, FAAP Professor of Pediatrics, Rush Medical College; Director, Section of Pediatric Pulmonology and Rush Cystic Fibrosis Center, Rush Children's Hospital, Rush University Medical Center

Girish D Sharma, MD, FCCP, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Pneumonia with multiple pneumatoceles.
Pneumonia with pneumatocele (lateral).
Resolving pneumatocele.
Chest CT scan of pneumonia with pneumatocele.
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