Infection of the Pleura: What is a Drainage Kit?

Infection of the pleura can sometimes lead to an excess of fluid or air build-up in the pleural cavity. A chest tube/drainage kit is used to remove the build up from the body and promote healing.  In order to understand how a drainage kit works, it helps to have a mind’s-eye picture of the pleura and its purpose and of the pleural cavity in general.

The lungs are covered with a thin membrane known as the pleura. This transparent membrane also lines the insides of the chest walls.  The pleura is actually two layers of one sheath which folds over on itself.  The layers of the pleura have a very thin space between them.  The space is filled with pleural fluid.  The pleura protects the lungs and the chest cavity from harmful viruses and bacteria and thus are a barrier to illness.

The problem is that sometimes the pleura itself becomes irritated by bacteria or viruses.  When this happens, it can result it pleural effusion, or a condition known as pleurisy.  Pleurisy most often results from some type of lung infection, though it can also ensue in cases of lung cancer and other lung problems or as the result of inhaling certain contaminants/pollutants.

Pleurisy causes an abnormal build-up of either air or fluid in the pleural cavity.  The pleural cavity refers to the area that is inside the chest cavity (rib cage) and surrounds the lungs.  Because the lung’s pain sensors are located in the pleura, an inflammation of the membranes can lead to mild to extreme pain, which is usually exacerbated by coughing or sneezing.

When the pleural cavity becomes filled with fluid or air bubbles, the air or liquid must be released in order to keep the lungs from collapsing.  A drainage kit (the Pleurx Drainage Kit is one example) is used to help get this excess fluid or air out of the body and protect the lungs.

A drainage kit consists of a long tube (the chest tube, also known as a tube thoracostomy.)  The tube is typically made of a type of flexible plastic.  The tube is inserted through the skin through a surgical procedure known as thoracotomy. The end of the tube rests inside the pleural cavity.  A probe and/or camera is sometimes inserted through the tube during surgery to ensure that the end of the tube has been placed correctly so that drainage will be effective.

The tube is then sutured to the surrounding skin surface to keep the tube from shifting.  The entire area is covered with a sterile dressing to protect the incision from infection.

The drainage kit also contains a vacuum bottle.  The other end of the chest tube is inserted into the vacuum bottle.  This bottle is used to aspirate, vacuum or “suck out” the excess fluid.  The contents of the bottle are then disposed of as medical waste.

Drainage kits may come with vacuum bottles in varying sizes.  (For example, the Pleurx Drainage Kit bottle has a 1000 ml. capacity.)  Drainage kits usually come with items like sterile dressings, gauze and alcohol swabs.  Some, like the Pleurx Drainage Kit, include gloves and clamps.