A chest tube is placed through the chest wall between two ribs. You may have had a chest tube put in to help your collapsed lung expand. Or the tube may have helped drain fluid from a chest infection or surgery.
The tube was removed before you came home. You may have some pain in your chest from the cut (incision) where the tube was put in. For most people, the pain goes away after about 2 weeks. You will have a bandage taped over the wound. Your doctor will remove the bandage and examine the wound in about 2 days.
It will take about 3 to 4 weeks for your incision to heal completely. It may leave a small scar that will fade with time.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- 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.
- 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).
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- Store your prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.
- Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- 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.
- 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.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have trouble breathing.
- Your shortness of breath is getting worse.
- Bright red blood soaks through the bandage over your incision.
- You have symptoms of infection where the tube was put in, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You do not get better as expected.