Overview

Chest tube (320x240)
credit: © 2016-2019 Healthwise, IncorporatedChest tube

A chest tube is a hollow plastic tube. Your doctor put the tube into the space around your lungs to help remove air that shouldn't be there. It can also help drain fluid or blood.

You may need the drain because of a punctured or collapsed lung (pneumothorax) or because of a surgery you had. A drain can also help remove pus from a serious chest infection, such as pneumonia.

The tube will stay in your chest until all or most of the air, fluid, or blood drains out. This usually takes a few days. Your doctor may attach the tube to a device that can help the space around your lungs drain better.

The tube may have a one-way valve that lets air and fluid out, but not in. This helps keep the lungs working and allows them time to heal. It may be called a flutter or Heimlich valve, or it may be another type of valve. Your doctor or nurse will show you how to use the valve.

If you are at home, you will need to care for the area around the chest tube and empty the container that it drains into.

How is a chest tube inserted?

Putting in a chest tube is considered minor surgery, and it may be done while you’re awake. You may be in the hospital or an outpatient clinic when the tube is inserted. You will be lying on your back or sitting up when it is done. Your doctor will inject medicine to numb the area of your chest where the tube will be put in. After your skin is numb, the doctor will make a small cut, called an incision, between two of your ribs. The doctor will put the tube through the incision and into the space around your lungs.

The tube will stay in your chest until all or most of the fluid, blood, or air drains out. This usually takes a few days. Your doctor may attach the tube to a machine that can help the space around your lungs drain better.

While the tube is in your chest, you won’t be able to be very active. Your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital to get help with your chest tube, or you may be able to care for it at home.

How can you care for yourself after getting a chest tube?

Activity

Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.

Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.

Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.How soon you can return to work or your normal routine depends on what health problems you have. Talk with your doctor about how long it will take you to recover.

You may shower after your bandage is removed. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for 2 weeks after your chest tube is out, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Practice deep breathing exercises as directed by your doctor. Coughing exercises also can help drain fluid out of your chest.

Diet

You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.

Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).

Medicines

Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.

If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking this medicine again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.

If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.

If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

Keep the incision dry as it heals. You will have a bandage over it to help the incision heal and protect it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.

Other instructions

Do not smoke. Smoking makes lung problems worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

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