Pneumothorax is typically diagnosed radiographically. Significant pneumothoraces show up on chest xray, and even small ones can be demonstrated with CT.
Typically, a known pneumothorax is followed with serial chest xrays. If patient condition permits, these should be performed using the classic technique (upright, PA, tube 72″ away). Unfortunately, physicians are used to ordering the chest xray as a bundle of both the PA and lateral views.
The lateral chest xray adds absolutely no useful information. The shoulder structures are in the way, and they obstruct a clear view of the lung apices, which is where the money is for detecting a simple pneumothorax. The xray below is of a patient with a small apical pneumothorax. There is no evidence of it on this lateral view.
Bottom line: only order PA views (or AP views in patients who can’t stand up) to follow simple pneumothoraces. Don’t fall into the trap of automatically ordering the lateral view as well!
Autotransfusing blood that has been shed from the chest tube is an easy way to resuscitate trauma patients with significant hemorrhage from the chest. Plus, it’s usually not contaminated from bowel injury and it doesn’t need any fancy equipment to prepare it for infusion.
It looks like fresh whole blood in the collection system. But is it? A prospective study of 22 patients was carried out to answer this question. A blood sample from the collection system of trauma patients with more than 50 cc of blood loss in 4 hours was analyzed for hematology, electrolyte and coagulation profiles.
The authors found that:
The hemoglobin and hematocrit from the chest tube were lower than venous blood (Hgb by about 2 grams, Hct by 7.5%)
Platelet count was very low in chest tube blood
Potassium was higher (4.9 mmol/L), but not dangerously so
INR, PTT, TT, Factor V and fibrinogen were unmeasurable
Bottom line: Although shed blood from the chest looks like whole blood, it’s missing key coagulation factors and will not clot. Reinfusing it will boost oxygen carrying capacity, but it won’t help with clotting. You may use it as part of your massive transfusion protocol, but don’t forget to give plasma and platelets according to protocol. This also explains why you don’t need to add an anticoagulant to the autotransfusion unit prior to collecting or giving the shed blood!
Reference: Autotransfusion of hemothorax blood in trauma patients: is it the same as fresh whole blood? Am J Surg 202(6):817-822, 2011.
An air leak is a sure-fire reason to keep a chest tube in place. Fortunately, many air leaks are not from the patient’s chest, but from a plumbing problem. Here’s how to locate the leak.
To quickly localize the problem, take a sizable clamp (no mosquito clamps, please) and place it on the chest tube between the patient’s chest and the plastic connector that leads to the collection system. Watch the water seal chamber of the system as you do this. If the leak stops, it is coming from the patient or leaking in from the chest wall.
If the leak persists, clamp the soft Creech tubing between the plastic connector and the collection system itself. If the leak stops now, the connector is loose.
If it is still leaking, then the collection system is bad or has been knocked over.
Here are the remedies for each problem area:
Patient – Take the dressing down and look at the skin entry site. Does it gape, or is their obvious air hissing and entering the chest? If so, plug it with petrolatum gauze. If not, the air is actually coming out of your patient and you must wait it out.
Connector – Secure it with Ty-Rap fasteners or tape (see picture). This is a common problem area.
Collection system – The one-way valve system is not functioning, or the system has been knocked over. Replace it immediately.
Note: If you are using a “dry seal” system (click here for more on this) you will not be able to tell if you have a leak until you fill the seal chamber with some water.