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Chest Tubes In Children


  • A chest tube is also known as chest drain or chest drainage tube. It is a plastic tube that is put through the front of your child's chest during a thoracostomy. It is placed to remove air, blood, or fluid from around your child's lungs. The lungs are covered by two layers of tissue called pleura. Between these two layers is a small space called the pleural space. It normally contains a small amount of fluid, which helps your child's lungs move easily when he breathes.
    Picture of the normal respiratory system
  • Certain diseases and conditions cause air, blood, or extra fluid to collect in the pleural space. This may increase the pressure inside your child's chest. Increased pressure may make the lung on that side of his chest collapse (deflate), making it hard for your child to breathe. Having a chest tube inserted allows your child's lung to expand fully so he may breathe more easily. Your child may have a lung infection which is causing a fever. Having a chest tube may help decrease his fever. If your child has a cough and chest pain, these problems may decrease or go away after a chest tube is put in.



  • Keep a current list of your child's medicines: Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list and the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Give vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed: Call your child's primary healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Ask before you change or stop giving your child his medicines.
  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight an infection caused by bacteria. Give your child this medicine exactly as ordered by his primary healthcare provider. Do not stop giving your child the antibiotics unless directed by his primary healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or give your child leftover antibiotics that were given to him for another illness.
  • Pain medicines: Your child may be given medicine to decrease pain. Your child may be able to use patient controlled anesthesia (PCA). This is medicine that your child can give himself by pushing a button. The medicine is given by a pump, through your child's IV tube. The pump is set so that your child cannot give himself too much medicine. Tell a caregiver if your child's pain does not go away, or comes back.

Ask for more information about where and when to take your child for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services for your child, ask for information.

  • Your child may need a chest x-ray or CT scan to check if his lung is working as it should. Ask your child's caregiver when to return for these tests.

Deep breathing and coughing:

Help your child do deep breathing exercises to open his airways. Coughing helps to bring up sputum (mucus) from his lungs to be spit out. Your child should deep breathe and cough every hour while he is awake. Your child may hold a pillow tightly over the tube insertion area to decrease pain when he coughs. Your child should take a deep breath and hold his breath as long as he can. Then he should push the air out of his lungs with a deep strong cough. He may be given an incentive spirometer. This device helps your child take deeper breaths. Put the plastic piece into your child's mouth and ask him to take a very deep breath. Tell your child to hold his breath as long as he can, then let his breath out. Let your child use the incentive spirometer 10 times in a row every hour while he is awake.


Exercise can help prevent blood clots from forming, and it can help keep your child's lungs filled with air. Talk to your child's caregiver before you let him start exercising. Together you can plan the best exercise program for your child.

Tube insertion site care:

  • Keep the area where the tube was placed dry. You may place a clean bandage over the area.
  • Your child may be able to take a shower three days after his chest tube is removed. Ask caregivers when he may get the area wet in a shower or bath.


  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child starts to throw up.
  • Your child's pain does not go away after pain medicine has been given.
  • Your child's skin is itchy, swollen, or he gets a new rash.
  • The area where the tube was placed is swollen, red, or has pus coming from it.
  • You have any questions or concerns about your child's medicine or care.


  • Your child has sudden chest pain.
  • Your child has sudden trouble breathing.
  • Your child's bandage becomes soaked with blood.
  • Your child's stitches look like they have come undone.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Chest Tubes In Children (Aftercare Instructions)

Micromedex® Care Notes