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 is characterized by painless swelling of the tissues because of air tracking along tissue planes. It is commonly seen over the chest wall around drain sites, in the head and neck. Palpation elicits a characteristic tissue paper feeling beneath the fingers. Air may track deeper into the mediastinum, retroperitoneum, scrotum, and down into the limbs. It is rarely a problem clinically but may herald the presence of a pneumothorax or other visceral damage.
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Last date updated on September, 2014