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Respiratory Pleural and Thoracic Injury. Marnie Quick, RN, MSN, CNRN Revision: 2011. Thoracic cavity. Lungs Mediastinum Heart Aorta and great vessels Esophagus Trachea. Breathing: inspiration.

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respiratory pleural and thoracic injury

Respiratory Pleural and Thoracic Injury

Marnie Quick, RN, MSN, CNRN

Revision: 2011

thoracic cavity
Thoracic cavity
  • Lungs
  • Mediastinum
    • Heart
    • Aorta and great vessels
    • Esophagus
    • Trachea
breathing inspiration
Breathing: inspiration
  • When the diaphragm contracts, it moves down, increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity When the volume increases, the pressure inside decreases
  • Air moves from an area of higher pressure, the atmosphere,to an area of lower pressure, the lungs
  • Pressure within the lungs is called intrapulmonary pressure
breathing exhalation
Breathing: exhalation
  • Exhalation occurs when the phrenic nerve stimulus stops
  • The diaphragm relaxes and moves up in the chest
  • This reduces the volume of the thoracic cavity
  • When volume decreases, intrapulmonary pressure increases
  • Air flows out of the lungs to the lower atmospheric pressure
  • This is normally an unconscious process
  • Lungs naturally recoil, so exhalation restores the lungs to their resting position
  • However, in respiratory distress, particularly with airway obstruction, exhalation can create increased work of breathing as the abdominal muscles try to force air out of the lungs
  • If two areas of different pressure communicate, gas will move from the area of higher pressure to the area of lower pressure
pleural anatomy
Pleural anatomy

Lungs are surrounded by thin tissue called the pleura, a continuous membrane that folds over itself

  • Parietal pleura lines the chest wall
  • Visceral pleura (pulmonary) covers the lung
pleural anatomy1
Pleural anatomy

Visceral pleura

Parietal pleura


Normally, the two membranes are separated only by the lubricating pleural fluid

Fluid reduces friction, allowing the pleura to slide easily during breathing

Intercostal muscles


Normal Pleural Fluid Quantity: Approx. 25mL per lung

pleural physiology
Pleural physiology
  • The area between the pleura is called the pleural space (sometimes referred to as “potential space”)
  • Normally, vacuum (negative pressure) in the pleural space keeps the two pleura together and allows the lung to expand and contract
  • During inspiration, the intrapleural pressure is approximately -8cmH20(below atmosphere)
  • During exhalation, intrapleural pressure is approximately -4cmH20
when pressures are disrupted
When pressures are disrupted

Intrapleural pressure: -8cmH20

If air or fluid enters the pleural space between the parietal and visceral pleura, the -4cmH20 pressure gradient that normally keeps the lung against the chest wall disappears and the lung collapses

Intrapulmonary pressure: -4cmH20

pleural injury pneumothorax
Pleural injury: Pneumothorax
  • Etiology/Patho- air in pleural space
    • Closed
    • Open
    • Tension
  • Clinical manifestations Emergency manag
    • Lewis 586 Table 28-20
closed pneumothorax
Closed Pneumothorax
  • Chest wall is intact
  • Rupture of the lung and visceral pleura allows air into the pleural space
  • Spontaneous- no apparent cause (thin individual)
  • Blunt trauma-CPR/fall
  • Penetrating from fractured ribs
open pneumothorax
Open Pneumothorax
  • Opening in the chest wall
  • Allows atmospheric air to enter/exit the pleural space during respiration
  • Penetrating trauma: stab, gunshot, impalement
tension pneumothorax
Tension pneumothorax
  • Tension pneumothorax occurs when a closed pneumothorax creates positive pressure in the pleural space that continues to build
  • That pressure is then transmitted to the mediastinum (heart and great vessels)
mediastinal shift
Mediastinal shift
  • Mediastinal shift occurs when the pressure gets so high that it pushes the heart and great vessels into the unaffected side of the chest
  • These structures are compressed from external pressure and cannot expand to accept blood flow
  • Cardiovascular collapse
pleural injury hemothorax
Pleural injury: Hemothorax
  • Blood in pleural space
  • Caused by trauma; lung

malignancy; pulmonary embolus; complication anticoagulant therapy

  • Like pneumothorax- lung can collapse
  • Manifestations similar to pneumothorax; blood loss symptoms; dull percussion over blood
pleural effusion
Pleural effusion
  • Fluid in the pleural space is pleural effusion
    • Transudateis a clear fluid that collects in the pleural space when there are fluid shifts in the body from conditions such as CHF, malnutrition, renal and liver failure
    • Exudate is a cloudy fluid with cells and proteins that collects when the pleura are affected by malignancy or diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. Pus-empyema
pleural effusion common manifestations and collaborative care
Pleural effusion- common manifestations and collaborative care
  • Common manifestations
    • Dyspnea, pleuritic pain, dec/absent breath sounds, limited chest wall movement
  • Diagnostic tests- Chest X-ray; CT; analysis of aspirated fluid from thoracentesis
  • Treatment-
    • Thoracentesis- insert needle into space to drain fluid
    • Treat underlying cause
    • administer O2
collaborative care for pleural thoracic injuries
Collaborative care for pleural/thoracic Injuries
  • Diagnostic tests- chest X-ray; CT; O2 sats; ABG’s/CBC; analysis of aspirated fluid; pulmonary function studies
  • High Fowlers; O2; rest to dec O2 demand
  • Treatment depends on severity- chest tube to restore negative pressure
  • Emergency management chest trauma (Lewis p 586 Table 28-19)
  • Emergency management thoracic injury (Lewis p 586 Table 28-20)
chest surgeries lewis 593 table 28 22 ncp 28 2
Chest SurgeriesLewis 593 Table 28-22; NCP 28-2
  • Exploratory thoracotomy
    • Incision into thorax to look for injured or bleeding tissue
  • Thoracotomy not involving lung
  • VATS
    • Video-assisted thoracic surgery to do lung biopsy, lobectomy, ect
chest tubes to remove air fluid
Chest Tubes– to remove air & fluid
  • Also called “thoracic catheters”
  • Different sizes
    • From infants to adults
    • Small for air, larger for fluid
  • Different configurations
    • Curved or straight
  • Types of plastic
    • PVC
    • Silicone
  • Coated/Non-Coated
    • Heparin
    • Decrease friction
chest tube insertion
Chest tube insertion

Choose site

Suture tube to chest

Explore with finger

Place tube with clamp

Photos courtesy

prevent air fluid from returning to the pleural space
Prevent air & fluid from returning to the pleural space

Chest tube is attached to a drainage device

  • Allows air and fluid to leave the chest
  • Contains a one-way valve to prevent air & fluid returning to the chest
  • Designed so that the device is below the level of the chest tube for gravity drainage or attached to suction
  • What happens if you clamp the chest tube?
prevent air fluid from returning to the pleural space1
Prevent air & fluid from returning to the pleural space

Tube open to atmosphere vents air

  • Most basic concept
  • Straw attached to chest tube from patient is placed under 2cm of fluid (water seal)
  • Just like a straw in a drink, air can push through the straw, but air can’t be drawn back up the straw

Tube from patient

prevent air fluid from returning to the pleural space2
Prevent air & fluid from returning to the pleural space
  • For drainage, a second bottle was added
  • The first bottle collects the drainage
  • The second bottle is the water seal
  • With an extra bottle for drainage, the water seal will then remain at 2cm
restore negative pressure in the pleural space
Restore negative pressure in the pleural space
  • Many years ago, it was believed that suction was always required to pull air and fluid out of the pleural space and pull the lung up against the parietal pleura
  • However, recent research has shown that suction may actually prolong air leaks from the lung by pulling air through the opening that would otherwise close on its own
  • If suction is required, a third bottle is added
restore negative pressure in the pleural space1
Restore negative pressure in the pleural space

The depth of the water in the suction bottle determines the amount of negative pressure that can be transmitted to the chest, NOT the reading on the vacuum regulator

how a chest drainage system works
How a chest drainage system works
  • Expiratory positive pressure from the patient helps push air and fluid out of the chest (cough, Valsalva)
  • Gravityhelps fluid drainage as long as the chest drainage system is below the level of the chest
  • Suction can improve the speed at which air and fluid are pulled from the chest
at the bedside
At the bedside
  • Keep drain below the chest for gravity drainage
  • This will cause a pressure gradientwith relatively higher pressure in the chest
  • Fluid, like air, moves from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure
  • Same principle as raising an IV bottle to increase flow rate
setting up the chest drainage system
Setting up the Chest drainage system
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adding water to the 2cm level in the water seal chamber, and to the 20cm level in the suction control chamber (unless a different level is ordered)
  • Connect 6' patient tube to thoracic catheter
  • Connect the drain to vacuum, and slowly increase vacuum until gentle bubbling appears in the suction control chamber
setting up suction
Setting up suction
  • Vigorous bubbling is loudand disturbing to most patients
  • Will also cause rapid evaporation in the chamber, which will lower suction level
  • Too much bubbling is not needed clinicallyin 98% of patients – more is not better
  • If too much, turn down vacuum source until bubbles go away, then slowly increase until they reappear, then stop
  • Water seal is a window into the pleural space
  • Not only for pressure
  • If air is leaving the chest, bubbling will be seen here
  • Air meter (1-5) provides a way to “measure” the air leaving and monitor over

time – getting better or worse?

disposable chest drains
Disposable chest drains
  • Collection chamber
    • Fluids drain directly into chamber, calibrated in mL fluid, write-on surface to note level and time When full will need to change ENTIRE system
  • Water seal
    • One way valve, U-tube design, can monitor air leaks & changes in intrathoracic pressure
  • Suction control chamber
    • U-tube, narrow arm is the atmospheric vent, large arm is the fluid reservoir, system is regulated, easy to control negative pressure
nursing assessment and pertinent nursing problems interventions
Nursing assessment and pertinent nursing problems/interventions
  • Health history-respiratory disease, injury, smoking, progression of symptoms
  • Physical exam- degree of apparent resp distress, lung sounds, O2 sat, VS, LOC, neck vein distention, position of trachea
  • All require observation for lung symptoms
  • Pertinent nursing problems
    • Acute pain
    • Ineffective airway clearance
    • Impaired gas exchange
    • Home care
    • Nursing Care Plans Thoracotomy 28-2 & Chest tube 28-21
atrium chest video website
Atrium chest video -Website
  • If desire more information go to the website
  • Once on website- go to the bottom of the page and select video player to view videos