Tissue emphysema

Alternative names
Crepitus; Subcutaneous air; Subcutaneous emphysema

Subcutaneous emphysema is the inadvertent introduction of air into tissues under the skin covering the chest wall or neck. This can happen due to stabbing, gun shot wounds, other penetrations, or blunt trauma.


Subcutaneous emphysema can often be seen as a smooth bulging of the skin. When a health care provider feels the skin (palpates), it produces an unusual crackling sensation as the gas is pushed through the tissue.

Common Causes
This is a rare condition. When it does occur, possible causes include:

  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)  
  • Ruptured esophagus  
  • Ruptured bronchial tube

Call your health care provider if
Most of the conditions associated with subcutaneous emphysema are very severe and require hospitalization. Medical staff would already be involved in most cases.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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