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 can you care for yourself at home when you have a chest tube?
- Keep the area where the chest tube comes out of your body clean. Wash with soap and water.
- Cover the area with a clean, dry bandage. Follow your doctor's instructions for how often to change the bandage.
- If your tube drains into a container, empty the container or drainage bag before it gets full.
- Learn how to empty the drainage container for your chest tube. You may be able to dump the container into the toilet. Or you may need to use a clean syringe to pull the fluid out. Your doctor or nurse will show you how to empty the container.
- If your valve is covered with gauze, change the covering once a day or whenever it gets wet.
- Do not take a bath or swim while you have a chest tube. Taking a shower is okay.
- Keep a drainage record sheet so that your doctor can see how much fluid is coming from the tube. Your doctor or nurse will give you a record sheet. Or you can just write down the date, time, amount, and color of the drainage. Save the record sheet to show to your doctor.