Pneumothorax and Pneumomediastinum in COVID-19 Suggest a Pneumocystic Pathology

Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2021 Oct;5(5):827-834. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2021.05.009. Epub 2021 Aug 25.


Objective: To determine whether the apparent excess incidence of pneumothorax and pneumomediastinum in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is explained adequately by iatrogenic causes vs reflecting sequelae of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection.

Patients and methods: We retrospectively reviewed patients within our health care system from March 15, 2020, through May 31, 2020, who had a diagnosis of pneumothorax or pneumomediastinum during hospitalization for confirmed COVID-19 infection with attention to timing of pneumothorax and pneumomediastinum; presence, laterality, and placement, or attempts at central lines; and presence of mechanical ventilation before the event.

Results: We report clinical data and outcomes from 9 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who developed pneumothorax and/or pneumomediastinum among more than 1200 hospitalized patients admitted within our hospital system early in the pandemic. Many events were inexplicable by iatrogenic needle injury, including 1 spontaneous case without central line access or mechanical ventilation. One occurred before central line placement, 2 in patients with only a peripherally inserted central line, and 1 contralateral to a classic central line. Three of these 9 patients died of complications of COVID-19 during their hospital stay.

Conclusion: With COVID-19 affecting the peripheral lung pneumocytes, patients are vulnerable to develop pneumothorax or pneumomediastinum irrespective of their central line access site. We hypothesize that COVID-19 hyperinflammation, coupled with the viral tropism that includes avid involvement of peripheral lung pneumocytes, induces a predisposition to peripheral bronchoalveolar communication and consequent viral hyperinflammatory-triggered pneumothorax and pneumomediastinum.

Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019; PICC, peripherally inserted central catheter; SARS-CoV-2, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.