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What is Air Sac Rupture?

The accumulation of air under the skin of a bird looks like an oversized inflated balloon and affects their respiratory system. The cause of this condition is usually a tear in one of the air sacs and your veterinarian will show you how you can handle this if it reoccurs. Birds don’t breathe the same way humans do, they don’t have a diaphragm that moves the air in and out.  The air sacs fill and empty in two cycles as they take each breath. Therefore, it is important to treat your bird immediately to enable efficient breathing.

Birds are unique; they have several air sacs located in their body which if ruptured, leads to an accumulation of air under their skin.

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Symptoms of Air Sac Rupture in Birds

  • Large balloon shaped lump under their skin that can vary in size 
  • In some birds, the balloon shape can blow up to almost grotesque shape within a matter of just a few hours 
  • A brittle sound may be produced when touching the swollen bump 
  • The swollen area feels soft and spongy when prodded 
  • The ballooning skin looks very transparent and thin 


There are two types of air sacs within your bird’s body that are distinguished by their connection and position within your bird.

  • The pulmonary system is widespread within your bird’s body with usually five large pairs although that depends on the species of bird and its flying characteristics 
  • The nasopharyngeal or tympanic system of air sacs occur only in the head of birds including the occipital and frontal bones, and is connected or inter-relates to the nasal cavity
  • Air sacs vary between the breed of the bird, and is an integral part of its flying capabilities

Causes of Air Sac Rupture in Birds

  • The underlying cause is not known and is hard to define but knowing how to deal with this condition is important
  • If this condition is reoccurring often in your bird’s life, it is important that you know how to treat it yourself, and your veterinarian can teach you to perform a simple but effective method of overcoming this
  • It is gas or air that has escaped from the air sacs caused by a rupture that allows the air to accumulate under the skin and this air needs to be released
  • A rupture can occur by your bird being startled at night, or if it flies into a window

Diagnosis of Air Sac Rupture in Birds

When your bird first experiences a rupture to one of its air sacs and develops a ballooning lump, it is important to take your bird to your avian veterinarian to have your bird checked. The obvious balloon shape, the transparent skin over the air lump, and your bird’s discomfort will lead to a diagnosis of a ruptured air sac. A CT Scan can be done if in doubt. If your bird has just a small lump, it may just self-heal by itself, but if the lump is large it can interfere with your bird’s eating and can press against internal organs, causing other problems. For the first time this happens, you will learn from your specialist how to manage this condition, and your bird will be given a full examination just to check his overall health and ensure there are no underlying diseases that are the cause.

Any type of bird can develop this condition, from budgerigars to large macaw parrots. Even pigeons and other wild birds can suffer this condition especially if they have survived an attack from a hawk or other predator, they may have their air sac damaged during the attack. It you find a wild bird in this condition, inform the local wildlife officials. Inexperienced handling may further damage the bird,  or the experts may be able to instruct you over the phone on how to safely assist the bird.

Treatment of Air Sac Rupture in Birds

Treatment for this condition is fairly simple and effective. Your veterinarian will disinfect around the skin area, and then he will carefully push a sterile needle into the skin above the air to allow the air to escape. Don’t be surprised if the area almost immediately fills with air again, as it may continue to do so after several repeated attempts to push out the air. Once the pressure is off, any remaining air will be slowly absorbed into your bird’s system without harm. Surgical repair or antibiotic treatment may be necessary but your specialist will be able to advise you on that.

It is hard to know whether this will be just a once off event, some birds can tend to have this happen on a regular basis. If this happens with your bird, your veterinarian will teach you how to do this air release process yourself, keeping in mind that any equipment you use must be sterilized always to prevent infection. Sometimes it may be many months before it ever happens again, sometimes it could reoccur within a month. Once the problem is solved, your bird will carry on with its life as per normal.

Recovery of Air Sac Rupture in Birds

Once your bird has been treated for an air sac rupture, and the ballooning effect is gone, it will recover remarkably well and continue with its normal life pattern. The air sac in birds seems to repair itself almost within a day or two, and if treated immediately, you can prevent the tear from enlarging. Management is required if the condition becomes a regular occurrence, as it can for some birds.

It is unknown why some birds are more prone to air sac ruptures, but if you are comfortable with treating your own bird, learning from your avian specialist how to give immediate relief will be of great benefit to your pet. Keep in mind that skin and equipment needs to be sterile before anything to prevent infection that may be crippling. Rapid treatment produces excellent recovery results.

Air Sac Rupture Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Khaki Campbell duck
2 Weeks
Mild condition
2 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen neck
Head to the side

Swollen neck on two week old duckling tail out of water neck and wings below water line squishy when touching the swelling. Could this be a ruptured air sack

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without seeing Elsa, I have no idea what might be going on, if it is a ruptured air sac or another type of injury. It would be best to have her examined by a veterinarian, as they can look at her, examine her, and determine what might be going on, and the best way to treat it.

We have 2 baby turkeys. I noticed when I picked him up a couple days ago his air sacs were huge! His chest are and the side of his neck. I called vets - bird vets - wildlife rehab - turkey farm - nobody had heard or knee what to do except my. I'm and one thread on Google. We have been doing the needle hole for a couple days now and within a few hours they are full again. I just want it to stop for him :(

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Red-lored amazon
10 Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Air sacks

Hi, I’m from Mexico and I have a 41 year old red lored Amazon parrot (I put he has 10 years in the “select age” box because they don’t give me the option of 41 years). He has two air sacks in his nape. What happens if I don’t release the trapped air? What happens if I just leave it in there? Will it go away by itself, or will the condition get worse?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
The the air sacs have ruptured, the air would need to be released by your Veterinarian who would insert a needle into the soft air filled swelling and remove the built up air; without examining Pancho I cannot confirm that this is the cause and I would recommend you visit an Avian Veterinarian or General Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM (search Mexico - there are 19 Avian Veterinarians registered)

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Blue Fronter Amazon Parrot
8 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Trapped air under right shoulder

My blue fronted amazon parrot has been treated for an air sack blockage with general anaesthesia, his skin was repaired by the vet with stitches and I had to give him antibiotic and antifungal medication for a week after the treatment.
He also had an xray taken and blood tests carried out which turned out to be normal.
However the swelling in his skin re-occured two weeks after the surgical treatment.
The bird acts normal, has a very good appetite and is chatty and playful.
The vet said we should k
just accept the issue and monitor it, edpecially as his blood test results were good.
I however can not help but worry and would like to ask whether accepting and monitoring the situation is the correct approach or something more can be done.
I would be very grateful if you could give me an answer.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. WIthout examining Timo and knowing more about his situation and health status, I can't really comment on whether monitoring his condition is the best course of action. If you are not sure that that is the best treatment for him, it might be worth having a second opinion by another veterinarian, as they can examine him, assess his physical condition, and advise you as to whether there are any other treatment options. I hope that everything goes well for Timo!

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