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Difference between Atelectasis and Consolidation

Atelectasis vs Consolidation

What is atelactasis and consolidation?

Atelectasis is the collapse of one or more areas of the lung whereas Consolidation is a condition characterized by swelling and hardening of the lung tissue due to the presence of fluid in the air sacs (alveoli) and smaller airways. The fluid can be in the form of water, pus, blood etc. Consolidation is a sign seen on the X-ray film, the medical condition is termed as pneumonia.

Difference in causes

Atelectasis is most commonly seen after surgeries of the chest or abdomen. Due to the side effect of anaesthesia, the air sacs tend to collapse. Atelectasis may be caused due to obstruction of the airways by the presence of a foreign body, mucus plugs or tumour. It is also seen in cases of pneumothorax where there is air in the pleural cavity and in pleural effusion where there is fluid in the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity is the space that separates the chest wall from the lungs.

Consolidation or simply speaking, pneumonia is the infection of the lungs caused by bacteria like streptococcus pneumoniae, legionella, mycoplasma pneumoniae; viruses like adenovirus, influenza virus; fungi or parasites. In pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus. Pneumonia is seen in patients with low immunity i.e. in AIDS, patients taking chemotherapy, elderly patients, hospitalised patients etc. Consolidation is also in pulmonary oedema (fluid in the air spaces which occurs due to heart failure) and lung cancer.

Difference in symptoms and signs

In atelectasis, the patient complains of cough, chest pain, breathlessness, rapid breathing and increased heart rate. In severe cases, there is a bluish discolouration of the skin and lips due to low oxygen levels called as cyanosis. In consolidation, the patient develops fever with chills, cough with yellow/green/blood stained sputum, chest pain, breathlessness, confusion etc.

In both cases, X-ray and CT scans of chest will help to diagnose the condition. In cases of pneumonia, we do tests like complete blood count, blood culture, sputum culture, serum electrolytes and liver function tests. A bronchoscopy may be done wherein a thin flexible tube is inserted into the airway to view the airways and clear any obstruction.

Difference in treatments

In patients of atelectasis, chest physiotherapy in the form of deep breathing exercises is advised. If there is an obstruction in the airways, then bronchoscopy is done to clear the airways. If a tumour is causing lung collapse, then surgical removal of the growth is done, followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. If there is air/fluid in the pleural cavity, then it is removed. In cases of pneumonia, depending on the causative agent, the appropriate medication is provided. Antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-fungal medications are given as a rule. The patient is advised adequate rest and plenty of fluid intake for quicker recovery.


Atelectasis is the collapse of one or more areas of the lung whereas Consolidation is the hardening of the lung due to the presence of fluid in the air sacs and airways. Consolidation is a finding seen on X-rays.
Atelectasis is caused due to obstruction of the airways by any foreign body, presence of air/fluid in the pleural cavity which compresses the lung whereas consolidation is mainly seen in case of pneumonia and in conditions where there is accumulation of fluid in the air sacs.
Investigations like X-ray and CT scan of the chest will help to confirm the diagnosis. In atelectasis, deep breathing exercises are useful. In consolidation, treatment is given based on the causative agent. Antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-fungal drugs are prescribed. Adequate rest and sufficient intake of fluids is advised.

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