The anticipation and management of air leaks and residual spaces post lung resection

Michael Rolf Mueller, Beatrice A. Marzluf


The incidence of any kind of air leaks after lung resections is reportedly around 50% of patients. The majority of these leaks doesn’t require any specific intervention and ceases within a few hours or days. The recent literature defines a prolonged air leak (PAL) as an air leak lasting beyond postoperative day 5. PAL is associated with a generally worse outcome with a more complicated postoperative course anxd prolonged hospital stay and increased costs. Some authors therefore consider any PAL as surgical complication. PAL is the most prevalent postoperative complication following lung resection and the most important determinant of postoperative length of hospital stay. A low predicted postoperative forced expiratory volume in 1 second (ppoFEV1) and upper lobe disease have been identified as significant risk factors involved in developing air leaks. Infectious conditions have also been reported to increase the risk of PAL. In contrast to the problem of PAL, there is only limited information from the literature regarding apical spaces after lung resection, probably because this common finding rarely leads to clinical consequences. This article addresses the pathogenesis of PAL and apical spaces, their prediction, prevention and treatment with a special focus on surgery for infectious conditions. Different predictive models to identify patients at higher risk for the development of PAL are provided. The discussion of surgical treatment options includes the use of pneumoperitoneum, blood patch, intrabronchial valves (IBV) and the flutter valve, and addresses the old question, whether or not to apply suction to chest tubes. The discussed prophylactic armentarium comprises of pleural tenting, prophylactic intraoperative pneumoperitoneum, sealing of the lung, buttressing of staple lines, capitonnage after resection of hydatid cysts, and plastic surgical options.