top of page

What is a chest drain?

A chest drain is a small tube inserted through the chest wall to remove air (in the case of a pneumothorax) or fluid (in the case of a pleural effusion) from the space between the lung and the inside of the chest wall (the pleural space). Once the chest drain has been inserted, it will be connected to a bottle containing sterile water. The air or fluid in your pleural space then travels down the drain into the bottle, and the water acts as a seal to prevent any air coming back up the tube into your chest. This should improve your breathing.

Digital image of two healthy lungs

Why has a chest drain been suggested?

 A chest drain is recommended when either


  • fluid (including blood or pus) or

  • air has collected in your pleural space that should not be there.

Both of these conditions can cause problems with breathing and can stop the lungs working properly. 

What happens during this procedure?

You will be asked to either sit on the side of your bed or lie in a comfortable position by the doctor. The doctor may do an ultrasound scan to confirm the best site to insert the chest drain.


The chest drain is often done at the side of your chest, below the armpit, or towards your back. Once you are resting comfortably, the skin will be cleaned with an alcohol-containing cleaning solution to kill any bacteria. This fluid often feels cold. A local anaesthetic is injected into the skin, to numb the area. This can feel mildly painful, but the pain disappears quickly. Your doctor will then pass a small needle into the pleural space. This should not be painful, although you may feel some pressure or tugging. Fluid or air will then be removed from the chest, and a drain will be inserted through the tract created by the doctor. The procedure usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. The drain will be attached to a bottle to drain the air or fluid.

Safety considerations

A chest drain is generally considered a safe and well-tolerated procedure. Your doctor will review the specific safety considerations with you before the procedure.

bottom of page