Information About Chest Tubes - Trauma
What is a chest tube?
A chest tube is a plastic tube used to remove air, blood, or other fluids from a space that exists between your lungs and chest cavity. This space is called the pleural space. When fluid or air collects in the pleural space, the lungs can’t expand the way they should. This makes it hard for you to breathe. A chest tube is placed to remove the fluid or air from the pleural space allowing you to breathe easier.
There are common reasons for placing chest tubes. They include:
• Collapsed lung – when air builds up in the
spaces around the lungs, it can
cause the lung to collapse. Removing the
air allows the lung to re-expand
and seal the leak.
• Infection –a chest tube may be used to remove infected fluid around the lung.
• Increased fluid – for some cancers and other conditions, large amounts of
fluid build up around the lungs. If this fluid keeps coming back, chest tubes
may be used to drain the fluid and prevent build-up.
• Comfort – chest tubes can be used to drain excess fluid or air and make it
easier for a patient to breathe.
What happens when a chest tube is inserted?
What happens when a chest tube is inserted?
• You will be awake during the procedure and may
be given some medication to help you relax.
• The doctor will ask you to lie on your side.
• The skin around the area where the chest tube is
inserted will be cleaned and numbed with a local
anesthetic. Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse
of any allergies you may have. You will have a
stinging or burning feeling when the local
anesthetic is injected.
• You may feel pressure to cough after the tube is
• Stitches will be used to hold the tube in place
and a dressing put on top.
• The chest tube is attached to a chest drainage
unit that looks like a flat box with different
chambers. It may or may not be connected to a
suction unit on the wall.
• A chest x-ray will be taken to make sure the chest tube is in the right place.
What should I do when I have a chest tube?
You should tell your nurse if you are having increased pain or if you are having trouble breathing. The nurse will listen to your lungs and heart and place a plastic clip on your finger to measure the oxygen in your blood. The nurse will also check the chest tube and drainage unit to make sure it is working properly. It is very important for you to do coughing and deep breathing exercises. The nurse will remind you to do this.
Will I be allowed out of bed?
Your doctor will decide what type of activity you can do. Most often patients can get out of bed with a chest tube. Your doctor will decide if your chest tube can be disconnected from the wall suction so that you may leave your room. The chest drainage unit should stay at least a foot below the level where the tube was inserted so fluids cannot flow back into your chest.
What happens if I accidentally knock the chest drainage unit over?
If the chest drainage unit gets knocked over, call the nurse. Your nurse will check to see if any fluids are in the wrong chambers or if the unit is broken.
When will the chest tube be removed?
Your doctor will decide when to remove the chest tube depending on the amount of drainage and whether your lung has expanded to the normal position. This will be checked by chest x-rays. This process may take several days and the time to removal is very difficult to predict.
What happens when a chest tube is removed?
The doctor will take the stitches out and then quickly pull the chest tube out and put a dressing over the wound. The doctor may ask you to take a deep breath and hold it while the tube is being removed. You will feel a short, burning sensation or pain while the doctor is pulling the chest tube out. Take a few deep breaths after it is out. You will have a chest x-ray taken after the tube comes out. Occasionally a chest tube must be put back in after removal and this x-ray will help your doctor to know if this is necessary. If you need any pain medicine, be sure to ask your nurse.
What should I know before I go home?
The dressing that was placed when your chest tube was removed should stay on for 48 hours. After 48 hours, the dressing will be changed daily while in the hospital. Keep the dressing clean and dry. You can remove the dressing and leave the chest tube site open to air once drainage stops. Bathe or shower as usual.
Call your doctor if you have:
- Sudden chest or shoulder pain
- Trouble breathing
- A temperature greater than 101.5° F
- An increase in drainage on the dressing and/or a foul odor
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/14/2012
Copyright © 08/14/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6692
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