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Caring for Your Heimlich Valve

This information will help you care for your Heimlich valve when you leave the hospital.

The Heimlich valve is one-way valve that connects to your chest tube. The valve lets extra air and fluid out of your chest, allowing your lung to fully expand. You may go home with a Heimlich valve if your lung is still leaking air after your surgery.

How should I care for my Heimlich valve?

  • Clean the skin around your chest tube with soap and water every day. Remove any soap residue on your skin to prevent irritation. Place a clean, dry dressing where the chest tube goes into your skin. Change the dressing if it gets wet or dirty.
  • If your chest tube is draining fluid, it will be connected to either a plastic container or a drainage bag. The type of collection device used will depend on how much fluid is draining. If your Heimlich valve is connected to a small plastic container, write down the amount in the container and empty it into the toilet. If your Heimlich valve is connected to a drainage bag, your doctor may want you to measure the amount of fluid that is draining. Write down the amount and empty the bag into the toilet. To remove the fluid, open the valve at the bottom of the drainage bag and pour it into the toilet.
  • The chest tube may irritate your chest wall, causing you some discomfort. Your doctor can prescribe pain medication if you need it.

What should I do if the Heimlich valve becomes disconnected? 

The Heimlich valve should never be disconnected from your chest tube. If it becomes disconnected, follow these steps:

  1. Reconnect it immediately by inserting the clear end of the valve into your chest tube.
  2. Cough deeply. This will help get rid of any extra air that may have flowed from your lung into your chest.
  3. Call your doctor's office.

What activities can I do while I have a Heimlich valve?

You should follow the instructions your doctor or nurse gave you for after your surgery.

Can I shower?

Yes. Do not take a bath.

When should I call my doctor or nurse?

  • If you have a temperature higher than 101° F (38.3° C)
  • If your skin around the chest tube is red, puffy, or feels warm and painful when you touch it
  • If you have pain that is not relieved by your pain medication
  • If the amount of drainage from the chest tube significantly increases
  • If you have any questions or concerns