Subcutaneous emphysema occurs when air gets into tissues under the skin. This usually occurs in the skin covering the chest wall or neck, but can also occur in other parts of the body.
Subcutaneous emphysema can often be seen as a smooth bulging of the skin. When a health care provider feels (palpates) the skin, it produces an unusual crackling sensation as the gas is pushed through the tissue.
This is a rare condition. When it does occur, possible causes include:
This condition can happen due to:
Air can also be found in between skin layers on the arms and legs or torso after certain infections, including gas gangrene.
Most of the conditions that cause subcutaneous emphysema are very severe, and you are likely already being treated by a doctor. Sometimes a hospital stay is needed, especially if due to an infection.
Crepitus; Subcutaneous air; Tissue emphysema
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.
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