Unilateral neonatal pulmonary interstitial emphysema managed conservatively: A case report

Pediatr Pulmonol. 2021 Jan;56(1):83-87. doi: 10.1002/ppul.25112. Epub 2020 Oct 20.


Background: Pulmonary interstitial emphysema (PIE) is a pathological state when air escapes from ruptured alveoli and is trapped along the sheaths surrounding the bronchovascular bundle. PIE is not uncommon in infants who require mechanical ventilation and even less common in infants on noninvasive ventilatory support; however, it is extremely unusual in infants in room air.

Case presentation: A 2-week-old male infant developed worsening tachypnea in the special-care nursery. The patient was born at 33 weeks' gestation by induced vaginal delivery due to pre-eclampsia. He required positive pressure ventilation at birth and was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit on nasal continuous positive airway pressure. On the second day of life, exogenous surfactant was administered via endotracheal tube due to increased oxygen requirement, and, soon after, he was weaned off all respiratory support. After 10 days of stability, he developed tachypnea with diminished air entry on the left side of the chest. Chest radiograph and chest computerized tomography confirmed left-sided unilateral PIE. The patient was treated conservatively with positional therapy alone. Significant clinical and radiographic improvement was noticed within 4 days; almost complete resolution by 10 days and the infant was discharged 23 days later. At follow-up at 7 months, the infant was found to be symptom-free with a normal chest radiograph.

Conclusions: Traditional management of unilateral PIE generally involves a combination of invasive ventilatory support and positional therapy to break the vicious cycle pathophysiology of PIE. This report focuses on the insidious progression of PIE in nonventilated neonates and describes a nontraditional conservative management strategy for the management of unilateral PIE.

Keywords: air leak syndrome; conservative management; neonatal intensive care unit; prematurity; pulmonary interstitial emphysema.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Emphysema / complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Intermittent Positive-Pressure Ventilation
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / complications
  • Male
  • Oxygen
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / etiology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / therapy
  • Respiration, Artificial / methods
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / therapy
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Oxygen