Chest Tube: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

A chest tube is placed through the chest wall between two ribs. You had a chest tube put in to help your collapsed lung expand. 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?

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.
  • Practise 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 blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • 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.

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 or nurse call line 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 or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You continue to have trouble breathing.
  • Your shortness of breath is getting worse.
  • You cough up blood.
  • Bright red blood soaks through the bandage over your incision.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have severe chest pain.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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