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Chest Aspiration / Drainage

What is a chest aspiration?
A chest aspiration is a procedure that is carried out by putting a small tube through your skin into the space between your lung (known as the pleural cavity) and the inside of your chest wall.  This is a common procedure.  It is put in to remove unwanted fluid  from the pleural cavity.  The doctor will decide if this unwanted fluid can be aspirated (drawn off) in one go.  You will have an ultrasound scan which will tell the doctor how much unwanted how much excess fluid is in the lung.  If there is more than 1.5litres a special tube is used which will drain into a special bag /or bottle.  

What is an ultrasound scan?
An ultrasound scan sends sound waves across your chest and lungs (this is it not painful) and will help to identify how much unwanted fluid is in the lung.  The radiographer will mark your skin after then procedure which will help the doctor to know where to put the needle and tube in to your skin.

Why do I need a chest aspiration / chest drain?
A collection of fluid (known as a pleural effusion) or a collection of air (known as a pneumothorax) is stopping your lungs from working properly.  We need to put in a chest drain to remove this.  This will help your lungs work normally.  

Who will do my chest aspiration / chest drain? 
A doctor who has been trained to do this procedure .

Where in the hospital will my chest aspiration / chest drain be put in?
If you are having a chest aspiration this will be done on Rhosyn Day Unit.  You will need to stay in hospital for a few hours after the aspiration is done.  A nurse will look after you during your stay.  The nurse will take your temperature, count your pulse and measure your blood pressure.  He or she will also count the number of times you breathe in. 
If you need a chest drain this will be put in on the ward as you will need to stay in hospital while the drain is in place. 

How will my chest aspiration / chest drain be put in?

  • We will ask you to sit upright on the edge of the bed.  We will put two pillows on a table in front of you, and then ask you to rest your head and arms on it.  We may ask you to lie on the bed with your arm above your head instead.
  • The chest aspiration / chest drain is put into your chest through the upper part of your back.  We will clean the skin where your drain will be placed with an antiseptic lotion, and put sterile towels around this area.
  • The doctor will inject a local anaesthetic into the skin to make the area numb.
  • They will then make a small cut in the skin and gently push a needle and a small  tube through the opening.  You may feel some pressure on your chest when this is happening.
  • If you are having a chest aspiration the fluid is drawn off with a large syringe.
  • If you feel pain or discomfort please tell the doctor immediately.
  • If you are having a chest drain the tube will be stitched to your skin to keep it firmly in place.  We will place a dressing over the area.
  • The other end of the drain will be attached to a special drainage bag or drainage bottle with a one-way valve. This works by letting fluid or air bubble out as you breathe out or cough.  But it stops the air or fluid going back into your chest as you breathe in.  
  • After your chest aspiration is finished or chest drain has been put in, you will have a chest x-ray to check that all the fluid has been removed or if chest drain in place that the tube is in the right place.

Will I be able to go home after my chest aspiration?
You will need to stay on the day unit until the doctor has checked your chest x-ray and the nurse looking after you is happy that you are well enough to go home.

What if my chest drain is not in the right place?
It is very rare that the drain is in the wrong place.  But if this does happen, the doctor will take it out gently and put a new one in some time later.  The doctor will give you a painkiller if necessary.

Will it be uncomfortable once the drain is in place?
Some patients report pain, discomfort or aching around the tube.  We will give you painkillers which will help to reduce any pain.  Please tell the nurse if you are uncomfortable or in any pain.

Who will look after my chest drain?
The nurses on the ward will look after your chest drain.

How will they do this?
A nurse will check your chest drain regularly.  They will look to see what is happening in the drainage bottle or drainage bag.  You may be asked to cough and take a deep breath so that the nurse can check that fluid moves in the tube when you breathe in.  This tells us that the drain is not blocked, or has not moved out of the pleural space.   The nurse will also check the dressing around the drain site, and change it when needed.

Every four hours or so the nurse will take your temperature, count your pulse and measure your blood pressure.  They will also count the number of times you breathe in and out over a minute and measure the level of oxygen in your blood. 

How will my oxygen level be measured?
A special peg-like cap is put on one of your fingers to record the level of oxygen in your blood.  This is painless.

Can I move about with my chest drain in?
Yes, you can move and walk about with your chest drain in place, but it is important that you do not sit on the tubing or kink or twist it.  The tube works best if it is lying on the bed or a chair, and then drops down so that the fluid or air runs into the drainage bottle or drainage bag.

What can I do to help?
You can help by trying to breathe deeply, cough and move around regularly to help drain the fluid or air, and to help your lungs to expand.  It is also helpful to tell the nurse or doctor if you are in pain or have any discomfort.

How long will my chest drain be in for?
The doctor will decide how long the chest drain needs to be in for.  This will vary with each person.  It is usually taken out when the amount of fluid measured in the bottle is less than 100 millilitres over 24 hours.

How will my chest drain be taken out?
When your chest drain is ready to come out, we will give you a painkiller at least 30 minutes before.  Please ask for a painkiller if it is not offered to you.

The doctor will tell you to breathe in a special way while your drain is being removed. 

The doctor will loosen the stitches, and as the drain is removed the stitches will be tightened again and left in place.  

The stitches are usually taken out between three and five days after the drain has been removed.  Your nurse in hospital will do this, or your district nurse will do it if you are at home.

What are the side effects of having a chest drain?
Some patients find that having a chest drain put in can be painful or uncomfortable.  The painkiller we will give you beforehand should help to prevent this.  

It is important to tell the doctor or nurse if you are in pain or are uncomfortable.  We can then give you more painkillers to help.

Will my shortness of breath or chest pain go away after the fluid has been removed?
Yes, usually your breathing will be easier and you should be in less pain after the fluid has been removed.

Could this happen again?
If you are unlucky and the fluid comes back, the chest drain may have to be put in again. The doctor may also give you tablets that make you pass more water to try to stop this happening so quickly. 

Local anaesthetic:  This is an injection given into the skin of the chest wall.  This will numb the area so you don’t feel any pain.

Pleural cavity and pleural space: Each lung has a double protective layer known as the pleura.  Between these coverings is the pleural cavity, which is also known as the pleural space.

Pleural effusion:  This is when there is too much fluid between the lung and the inside of the chest wall in the pleural cavity. 

Pneumothorax: Greek for ‘air in the chest’.  Any break in the protective layers or in the chest wall will allow air into the pleural space.  This may cause the lung to collapse partly or completely.       

You can get more information on the Macmillan website at

This leaflet has been written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.