Fluid Around the Lung

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Fluid around the lung (called "pleural effusion") is different from fluid IN the lung, which happens with heart problems or pneumonia. Fluid around the lung can keep the lung from expanding normally, which makes it hard to breathe.

Pleural drainage

Fluid around the lung can be treated by placing a tube (called a “catheter”) into the chest. This treatment allows you to avoid long hospital stays. During the placement procedure, the catheter is tunneled into the chest through a small incision. The catheter is then connected to a suction device to drain out the fluid, and the catheter is left in the chest for future drainings. The catheter can be removed later if the fluid remains under control.

There are risks for pain and infection at the placement site.


Another treatment, called thoracentesis, involves your doctor inserting a needle between your ribs into the fluid buildup. The needle will not go into the lung. If fluid keeps building up, a surgeon can put a tube into the fluid-filled space within your chest to drain it.


To prevent fluid from coming back to the same area, your doctor may put an irritating substance (sterile talc powder or antibiotic) within the chest cavity. This will cause scar tissue to form and make the lung stick to the chest wall, so there's no space left for fluid buildup. You need to be in the hospital for several days for this treatment, which is called "pleurodesis." It may be quite uncomfortable or sometimes painful. But strong pain medications can greatly ease the pain and make breathing easier. Be sure to ask your doctor to order pain medication so it's ready and waiting in case you need it. If the procedure is successful, the improvement in your breathing will be noticeable, long-lasting, and probably worth the temporary pain.

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