How is it treated?

Antibiotics given via a drip

Some patients will just need antibiotics given intravenously (directly into a vein through a drip). However, they may need to stay in hospital for a long period.

Chest drain

Some patients may need both antibiotics and a chest drain.

A chest drain isa flexible plastic tubeinserted through the chest wall and into the affected area, to drain it of fluid. The area where the tube is inserted is numbed, and the patient may also be given a light sedative before having the drain inserted. Painkillers are given to ease any pain while the chest drain is in.

The chest tube usually stays in place until anX-ray or ultrasound scanshows all the fluid has drained from the chest and the lungs arefully expanded. Sometimes injections may be given through the chest drain to help clear the infected pockets of pus.

The patient may need to stay in hospital until the tube is removed. Some patients may be able to go home withthe chest tube still in placein which case a specialist nurse will offersupport and advice on how to manage thisat home. The nurse will demonstrate how to position, empty and change the bag, until the family or patient feels confident to do this themselves.

For more information, read this NHS factsheet on chest drains (PDF, 148kb) .

Surgery to remove the lung lining

Surgery may be needed if the condition doesn't improve.This involves making an incision (cut) in the chest to access the lungs, and removing the thick layer coating the lungs, so they can expand properly again. This is only carried out if other treatments haven't worked.

Your surgeon or specialist will explain the benefits and risks of the procedure. Read more about lung surgery .


A chest drain is not suitable for all patients. Some will instead opt to have an opening made in their chest, known asa stoma.A special bag is placed over the stoma to collect the fluid that leaks from the empyema. This is worn on the body, and may be more discreet and interfere less with your lifestyle than a chest drain.

However, with modern treatments getting a stoma is uncommon.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018