Can damage to the alveolar walls or reduction in the surface for gaseous exchange be reversible or can a non chronic disease cause these? If yes can you please name a condition in which these things happen in alveoli?

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1 Answer 1


Yes, damage to the alveolar walls or the reduction in surface area for gaseous exchange can be reversible. Additionally, acute (non-chronic) conditions can cause these circumstances. For example, in salt or freshwater drowning1 victims, wash out and destroy surfactant, disrupt the alveolar-capillary membrane, and increase its permeability.2,3,4

In the case of drowning from freshwater or saltwater, some patients with mild lung injury will require supplemental (non-mechanical) oxygen for 6-48 hours.5 Other patients may need invasive (intubation with mechanical support ventilation) or non-invasive (mechanical support ventilation like CPAP or BiPAP).5 The time required to regenerate surfactant is approximately 48 hours,5 and therefore, that is likely how long they will require mechanical ventilatory support to reverse the injury.5

Another condition you may want to research that has a similar, reversible cause to the collapse of alveoli is atelectasis.6 Additionally, you can research acute spontaneous pneumothorax as another condition that is related to your description.7


  1. Van Beeck EF, Branche CM, Szpilman D, Modell JH, Bierens JJ. A new definition of drowning: towards documentation and prevention of a global public health problem. Bull World Health Organ. 2005;83(11):853-856.
  2. Olshaker JS. Near drowning. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 1992;10(2):339-350.
  3. DeNicola LK, Falk JL, Swanson ME, Gayle MO, Kissoon N. Submersion injuries in children and adults. Crit Care Clin. 1997;13(3):477-502. doi:10.1016/s0749-0704(05)70325-0
  4. Bierens JJ, Knape JT, Gelissen HP. Drowning. Curr Opin Crit Care. 2002;8(6):578-586. doi:10.1097/00075198-200212000-00016
  5. Chandy D, Richards D. Drowning (submersion injuries). UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/drowning-submersion-injuries?search=drowning&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~78&usage_type=default&display_rank=1. January 23, 2023. Accessed March 9, 2023.
  6. Muller, NL, Fraser, et al. Radiologic diagnosis of diseases of the chest, Saunders, Philadelphia 2001.
  7. Gupta D, Hansell A, Nichols T, Duong T, Ayres JG, Strachan D. Epidemiology of pneumothorax in England. Thorax. 2000;55(8):666-671. doi:10.1136/thorax.55.8.666

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