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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 side of your child's chest. It uses a suction device to remove air, blood, or fluid from around your child's lungs or heart. A chest tube will help your child breathe more easily.


Seek care immediately if:

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

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

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


Your child may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics help fight an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not give your child other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to a healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for your child:

  • Help your child find a comfortable position. Your child may have pain or discomfort while the chest tube is in. Have him or her lie in a different position to help decrease pain.
  • Have your child cough and breathe deeply as directed. This will decrease the risk for a lung infection. Have your child take deep breaths and cough 10 times each hour. Your child should hold a pillow tightly against the incision wound when he or she coughs. Tell your child to take a deep breath and hold it for as long as he or she can. Then let the air out and cough strongly.

Care for your child's chest tube:

  • Check the chest tube for kinks or loops. Keep the tube close to your child when he or she is in bed, but do not let your child lie on it. Do not let loops of tubing hang down the side of your child's bed. Be sure the tubing is long enough so that your child can move and turn in bed without pulling on it. Never clamp the tube your child.
  • Keep the suction device below the level of your child's chest. This will help fluids drain from your chest to the container below. This will also help prevent fluids from flowing back into your child's chest.
  • Make sure the chest tube is secure. Make sure the chest tube is securely taped to your child's body. The chest tube may also be taped to the suction device to help prevent the tubes from coming apart.
  • Do not turn knobs or change settings on the device unless a healthcare provider tells you to. If the suction device has water in it, the water should bubble gently, with short periods of no bubbling. A lot of bubbling that does not stop may mean air is leaking.

Wound care:

Keep your child's bandage clean and dry. Ask your child's healthcare provider when he or she can bathe.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.