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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.