Current evidence for the management of paediatric parapneumonic effusions

Curr Med Res Opin. 2012 Jul;28(7):1179-92. doi: 10.1185/03007995.2012.684674. Epub 2012 May 22.


Background: Parapneumonic effusions (PPE) and empyema, secondary to bacterial pneumonia, are relatively uncommon but their prevalence is increasing lately. Even if their prognosis is generally good, they may still cause significant morbidity. The traditional treatment of PPE has been intravenous antibiotics and, when necessary, chest tube drainage. Open thoracotomy with decortication has usually been applied in case of failure of the traditional approach. Lately, the use of fibrinolysis and/or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) are utilized in the management of PPE; however, there is still little consensus on the most effective primary treatment.

Scope: In this article our goal was to summarize, based on up-to-date evidence, all the management options for PPE available to physicians and weigh the benefits and risks of the most popular ones, in an effort to figure out which one is superior as a first-line approach in children.

Findings: A literature search of randomized and retrospective studies that pinpoint methods of evaluation and treatment of PPE was carried out in Medline and Scopus databases. Chest X-ray, ultrasound as well as microbiology and biochemical characteristics of the pleural fluid will facilitate decision-making. Small uncomplicated effusions resolve with antibiotics alone, larger ones require small-bore chest tube drainage and in case of complicated loculated PPE, fibrinolysis or VATS should be considered. Both methods promote faster drainage, reduce hospital stay and obviate the need for further interventions when used as first-line approach. However, primary treatment with VATS is not advised by the majority of studies as a first choice intervention, unless medical treatment has failed.

Conclusion: The main steps in treatment are diagnostic thoracocentesis and imaging, small percutaneous drainage, and considering fibrinolysis in complicated PPE. In case of failure, VATS should be the surgical method to be applied.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Chest Tubes
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Management
  • Drainage
  • Fibrinolysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnosis*
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / surgery
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / surgery
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents