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This information was reviewed and approved by Ellen Volker, MD, MSPH (5/1/2019).

Treatment of pleural effusion includes:

  • Removing excess fluid from the lungs to prevent infection and alleviate pressure.

  • Treating the symptoms.

  • Treating the underlying cause to prevent fluid from reaccumulating.


Draining Fluid

A thoracentesis can be used for both diagnosis and treatment. During a thoracentesis procedure, a thin needle is inserted into the chest cavity, and a syringe is used to remove excess fluid. This can also be done using a chest tube (thoracostomy) if a very large amount of fluid is present. The chest tube is made of flexible plastic and is placed between your ribs. A local painkiller can be used to reduce discomfort.



Medication may be used in treatment especially if there is an infection. Types of medication used to treat pleural effusion include steroids, anti-inflammatories, diuretics or antibiotics.



Surgery may be an option for people who do not get adequate results from other treatments. If the fluid has become thick or hardened, surgery may be necessary.


Managing symptoms

Pleural effusion and pleurisy may cause unpleasant symptoms that can be managed with:

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation

  • Cough syrup and other cough suppressants

  • Getting plenty of rest

  • Finding a comfortable position to relax


Tunneled Pleural Catheter

If you have recurrent pleural effusion, or fluid that reaccumulates around the lung, your doctor may recommend a tunneled pleural catheter. This outpatient procedure places a thin silicone tube (catheter) between the ribs, into the space filled with fluid around the lungs. A portion of the catheter remains outside the body, covered with a waterproof bandage, and connected to a disposable bottle collection system. A tunneled pleural catheter is a minimally invasive alternative to repeated thoracentesis procedures, allowing the patient to drain at home, minimizing procedures and doctor appointments.



If your pleural effusion keep recurring, your doctor may recommend a procedure called pleurodesis. After draining the pleural fluid with surgery or chest tube, your doctor will prescribe a medication that intentionally causes inflammation inside the pleural space. This will seal this area shut. This procedure normally requires a hospital stay of several days.


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