Objective. To devise a clinically relevant grading system for the sonographic evaluation of parapneumonic effusions, and to evaluate length of hospital stay as a function of treatment approach and sonographic grades.

Methods. Chest sonograms of 46 pediatric patients diagnosed with empyemas and admitted to two medical centers in the last 8 years were retrospectively evaluated using a grading system based on the degree of fibrinous organization within the parapneumonic effusions. Hospital charts were reviewed to determine the method of treatment and length of hospital stay. Patients were divided into two treatment groups: nonoperative (n = 26) (antibiotics alone, or combined with thoracentesis, or tube thoracostomy) and operative (n = 20) (open decortication, or video thoracoscopy and pleural debridement). Patients in the nonoperative group were further subdivided into two groups: those who received antibiotics alone (n = 11) and those who received antibiotics plus nonoperative drainage thoracentesis and/or tube thoracostomy (n = 15). Within each treatment group, patients were subdivided into two ultrasound grades: low (no evidence of organization) and high (evidence of organization such as fronds, septations, or loculations). Student'st test was performed to compare the lengths of hospital stay for each of the treatment groups and ultrasound grades.

Results. The length of hospitalization was no different for patients with low-grade ultrasounds in the nonoperative (9.8 days) and operative groups (8.0 days). In contrast, length of hospitalization was significantly shorter for patients with high-grade sonograms in the operative group (8.6 days), when compared with the nonoperative group (16.4 days). Length of hospitalization for patients in the nonoperative group with high-grade sonograms was significantly longer (16.4 days) than for those with low-grade ultrasounds (9.8 days). Furthermore, when the nonoperative patients were divided into an antibiotics alone group and a nonoperative drainage group, the patients with low-grade sonograms had no difference in the length of hospitalization (9.0 days vs. 10.4 days), whereas those patients with high-grade sonograms in the nonoperative drainage group had a significantly longer hospitalization (19.9 days) than the antibiotics alone (high-grade) group (11.4 days).

Conclusions. Patients with a low-grade sonogram had similar length of hospitalization if treated with either nonoperative or operative measures. Patients with high-grade sonograms had significantly shorter length of hospitalization when treated with decortication. Our retrospective study suggests that patients with high-grade ultrasound studies treated nonoperatively do not benefit from pleural drainage procedures or chest tube placement. This study demonstrates the usefulness of early sonographic evaluation of parapneumonic effusions. A prospective study evaluating the usefulness of sonographic assessment of severity of disease in the treatment of children with parapneumonic effusions is warranted on the basis of our retrospective data.

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