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Treatment Options

Treatment for pleural effusion focuses on removing the extra fluid from the pleural space and preventing it from building up again. The goal is to relieve symptoms and treat any underlying medical conditions that are causing the fluid buildup.

Draining the Fluid

One of the most common procedures to remove extra fluid is called thoracentesis. This involves using ultrasound to locate the fluid and a hollow needle to drain the fluid from the pleural space. Thoracentesis can improve breathing, reduce coughing and improve oxygen levels.

It is common for extra fluid to build up again after it is removed, so patients often need more than one procedure. In this case, your doctor may suggest a procedure called a pleurodesis or the insertion of a catheter that stays in place and can be drained at home.


Medications may be used to treat pleural effusion depending on its cause and symptoms. Types of medications used may include:

  • Antibiotics if there is an infection
  • Steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce inflammation or swelling
  • Diuretics to help the body get rid of extra fluid by increasing the amount of urine it makes
  • Bronchodilators to widen the airways in the lungs and allow for more air flow


Occasionally, surgery may be required to treat pleural effusion, especially if it continues to return. Pleurodesis is a procedure that seals the layers of the pleura together, which prevents fluid from building up again. Pleurectomy is a procedure that removes part of the pleura to prevent continued fluid buildup.