It is most commonly used to help remove air from a pneumothorax. The valve is usually designed as a rubber sleeve within a plastic case where the rubber sleeve is arranged so that when air passes through the valve one way the sleeve opens and lets the air through. However when air is sucked back the other way the sleeve closes off and no air is allowed backwards. This construction enables it to act as a one-way valve allowing air (or fluid) to flow only one way along the drainage tube. The end of the drainage tube is placed inside the patient's chest cavity, within the air or fluid to be drained. The flutter valve is placed in the appropriate orientation (most packages are designed so the valve can only be connected in the appropriate orientation) and the pneumothorax is thus evacuated from the patient's chest.
There are several potential problems with these valves. One is that the chest tube can clog. When chest tube clogging occurs, the pneumothorax or subcutaneous emphysema can recur. This can also lead to empyema. The other is that these tend to leak fluid. To address this, some have turned to small chest drainage alternatives, such as the Atrium Mini or the Teleflex Mini Sahara. An alternative solution is to attach a sputum trap to the valve, thus providing a reservoir to capture the draining fluid.