30 Jan 2020

Lung tube procedure less effective than painkillers - 'game changing' NZ study

6:18 pm on 30 January 2020

New research from New Zealand doctors could save people all over the world from painful and unnecessary treatment for collapsed lungs.

33982521 - human lungs

Photo: 123RF

The standard treatment for the condition has been to insert a plastic tube into the chest to drain air that has leaked from the lungs, but a joint New Zealand and Australian study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found it was better to simply give patients paracetemol and monitor them.

Study co-author Kyle Perrin, a Wellington respiratory doctor, said patients without tubes spent much less time in hospital and had fewer complications.

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director and Wellington Hospital respiratory physician Kyle Perrin

Wellington respiratory doctor Kyle Perrin Photo: Supplied

"The patients were able to go home and get on with their lives immediately rather than stick around in hospital. But the obvious other outcome is the significant cost savings to the health system," Dr Perrin said.

About 300 collapsed lung patients from Australia and New Zealand took part in the study, which was done jointly with a team from the Royal Perth Hospital.

Half of them had tubes inserted but the other half were given mild pain killers and monitored. On average, the tube patients spent 6 days in hospital, while the non-tube patients spent 1.6 days.

Dr Perrin said many were able to go home the same day.

The drains had been the standard treatment since the 1960s but the researchers scanned studies dating back to the turn of last century and could find none that recommended it.

The study was a game changer, Dr Perrin said.

"This is the commonest approach to treating this condition worldwide - to place a tube. And so one of the reasons it has been published in such a significant journal is it is going to have a global impact on the way this is managed," he said.

Wellington woman Claire Honeywill was part of the study after she suffered a collapsed lung.

She had hoped to be in the non-intervention group but had no such luck.

"They put the drain in which is pretty horrible. They'd given me some morphine and stuff but I could still feel the tube inside."

It was "brilliant" to think other patients would be spared that discomfort and the disruption of a hospital stay," she said.

"How much does a bed cost for a day? I was in there for four days and I felt completely fine apart from the fact I had this drain in me."

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