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Flying with pneumothorax

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Flying with pneumothorax

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The lungs are the central respiratory organs of the body. Adults breathe in and out up to fifteen times a minute, filling the lungs with oxygen. Depending on the situation, more or less oxygen is needed. If the amount of oxygen required in the particular situation is not delivered, respiratory distress will occur. 

In addition to low oxygen supply, other illnesses can also impair lung function. Like a pneumothorax, for example. 

Flying with pneumothorax

What is a pneumothorax?

A pneumothorax is a pathological accumulation of air in the thorax (the chest). Air enters between the layers of the pleura, the two-layered mesothelial membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest wall. The penetration of the air between the pleural layers causes the loss of the normal negative pressure in the pleural cavity. This causes considerable pain, with associated breathing difficulties, as the lungs can no longer follow the movements of the chest. As a result, the affected lung may collapse, resulting in extremely reduced respiratory functioning of the lungs. 

The cause of a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) is usually a serious injury resulting from an accident, such as a car accident. Depending on the severity, a pneumothorax can be life-threatening. If a diagnosis of pneumothorax is made during the initial examination, it is important that the patient receives the best possible therapy. Patients with untreated pneumothorax may suffer permanent damage, such as chronic lung diseases.

Can a scheduled flight with pneumothorax be dangerous?

Ordinary passenger aircraft fly with a cabin pressure that corresponds to an altitude of approximately 2,400 metres. For healthy people, this difference compared with the air pressure on the ground is hardly noticeable during a flight. But, in the worst-case scenario, a flight in a scheduled airliner can be life-threatening for patients with a collapsed lung, due to the difference in air pressure.  The air entrapped in the pleural cavity expands due to the altitude, which can lead to a worsening of the pneumothorax.

Since the risk of the pneumothorax deteriorating is too high from a medical point of view, many doctors do not recommend a normal scheduled flight. Even after successful treatment, specialists warn against flying too soon and recommend that patients wait 1–3 weeks before their next flight. 

What happens if the patient has a pneumothorax during a holiday or other trip abroad? With such a serious condition, many patients want to return to their home country as soon as possible after the initial treatment in order to receive the best possible follow-up treatment there, surrounded by family and friends. In such cases, a medical repatriation by air ambulance can be considered. 

Safe medical repatriation by air despite pneumothorax

In contrast to a scheduled flight, a flight in an air ambulance is possible at any time for patients with pneumothorax. Ambulance aircraft are specially designed for people who need a medical repatriation at short notice due to the severity of their illness or require extensive monitoring during the flight. 

As the aircraft cabin is fully fitted with medical equipment, the patient can be transported lying on a stretcher. The medical crew provides the patient with continuous care throughout the flight to minimise the risk of complications. In addition to the medically equipped cabin, an adjustment to the cabin pressure helps to make the flight safe for the patient. 

During what is known as a ‘sea-level flight’, the altitude of the aircraft is noticeably reduced. The specially pressurised cabin is also reinforced, which keeps the air pressure close to that for sea level. Both factors ensure the patient's pneumothorax remains relatively stable and their breathing during the flight is not hindered by the air pressure in the cabin being too low.

A further advantage of ambulance jets is their ability to fly to many small regional airports (in addition to the major airports) which shortens journey times to and from the airport and thus reduces the burden on the patient.

Who pays for a medical repatriation following a pneumothorax?

As a rule, neither statutory nor private health insurance schemes will cover the costs of a medical repatriation. A separate travel insurance policy with good health insurance cover should be taken out before each holiday and travellers should check in advance whether the policy includes a medical repatriation option. However, even if this is the case, the acceptance of costs by the insurance company will depend on whether the journey is ‘medically necessary’ or ‘medically reasonable’.

If the medical repatriation is ‘medically necessary’ to allow the patient to receive essential treatment in their home country, the insurance company will usually cover the costs. However, even if the medical repatriation is only ‘medically reasonable’ it is worth speaking to your insurance company.

What are the costs of a medical repatriation?

We will organise your medical repatriation with pneumothorax even if your insurance company will not cover the costs. It is not possible to give a standard figure for the costs that you will have to pay in this case, as the calculation depends on various factors such as the patient's health status, the number of accompanying persons, the length of the flight route and the urgency of the medical treatment required. We would be happy to explain during a personal consultation with you how the costs are worked out in your individual case.

Medical repatriation with Medical Repatriation UK

Thanks to our many years of experience, we can organise the medical repatriation of patients with pneumothorax at very short notice. Our international team can communicate with doctors and authorities anywhere in the world, so we can relieve you of as much organisational effort as possible, even before departure. Our bed-to-bed service enables us to transport the patient safely from the airport to the desired hospital in an ambulance.

Any further questions?

We have compiled lots of useful information about our medical repatriation services for you in our FAQ.

Contact us now for your repatriation flight

We are your experienced partner for the medical repatriation of pneumothorax patients. Our team is available to assist you 24 hours a day for a free consultation or a free calculation of the costs. Contact us now: