The presence of an air leak is currently a contraindication for removal of a chest tube. The objective of this series was to evaluate the safety of chest tube removal in patients with an air leak.Methods
This study was a retrospective cohort study of a prospective database. Patients who underwent elective pulmonary resection and were discharged home with a chest tube were eligible.Results
Between July 2000 and July 2007, 6,038 patients underwent elective pulmonary resection by one general thoracic surgeon. One hundred and ninety-nine patients (3.8%) with a persistent air leak had their chest tubes placed to a suctionless portable drainage device and were discharged home. One hundred ninety-four patients (97%) returned to our clinic (median, postdischarge day 16). One hundred thirty-seven patients had no air leak, and 57 patients still had an air leak. All 137 patients (including 26 with a nonexpanding pneumothorax) had their chest tubes removed. In addition, all 57 patients (including 19 who had pneumothorax as well) had their chest tubes removed without sequela (9 after provocative clamping). At 3 months' follow-up, all patients were asymptomatic without evidence of pleural space problems, except 3 (all in the persistent air leak group) in whom an empyema developed.Conclusions
Patients with air leaks can be safely discharged home with their chest tubes. These tubes can be safely removed even if the patients have a pneumothorax, if the following criteria are met: the patients have been asymptomatic, have no subcutaneous emphysema after 14 days on a portable device at home, and the pleural space deficit has not increased in size.