The goal of treatment is to:
- Remove the fluid
- Prevent fluid from building up again
- Determine and treat the cause of the fluid buildup
Removing the fluid (thoracentesis) may be done if there is a lot of fluid and it is causing chest pressure, shortness of breath, or other breathing problems, such as low oxygen levels. Removing the fluid allows the lung to expand, making breathing easier.
The cause of the fluid build up must be treated, too.
If it is due to congestive heart failure, you may receive diuretics (water pills) and other medications to treat heart failure.
Pleural effusions caused by infection are treated with antibiotics.
In people with cancer or infections, the effusion is often treated by using a chest tube for several days to drain the fluid.
Sometimes, small tubes can be left in the pleural cavity for a long time to drain the fluid. In some cases, the following may be done:
- Putting medication into the chest that prevents fluid from building up again after it is drained
- Radiation therapy