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Chest Tubes in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about a chest tube?

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 heart or lung. A chest tube will help your child breathe more easily.

How do I prepare my child for a chest tube to be inserted?

  • If possible, help your child understand the procedure. Tell him or her why a chest tube is needed, and how it is inserted. Explain that medicine will be used to help prevent pain.
  • Your child may be given general anesthesia to keep him or her asleep and free from pain during the procedure. Your child may instead be given local anesthesia or a nerve block. He or she will be able to feel some pressure during the procedure but should not feel any pain.
  • Your child may be given antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection. Tell your child's healthcare provider if he or she has ever had an allergic reaction to anesthesia or an antibiotic.
  • Your child's healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare your child. The provider may tell you not to let your child eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of the procedure. He or she will tell you if your child can take any of his or her medicines on the day of the procedure.

What will happen when a chest tube is inserted?

Your child's healthcare provider will make a small incision in your child's chest. A tool is used to make an opening through the chest muscle. The chest tube is inserted slowly until it reaches the pleural space or chest cavity. Your child's healthcare provider may use an ultrasound to guide him or her. When the tube is in place, it will be connected to suction and a drainage system. Stitches may be sewn into your child's chest wall to hold the tube in place. Tape may also be used to secure the tube before it is covered with a bandage.

What happens after my child has a chest tube inserted?

  • Medicines may be given to reduce pain or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • An x-ray or a CT scan may be used to make sure the tube is in the right place. Your child may also need an x-ray after the chest tube is removed.

What do I need to know about chest tube removal?

  • Your child's healthcare provider will tell you when the chest tube can be removed. After heart surgery, the chest may be removed within 72 hours. For lungs, the chest tube can be taken out when your child's lung is working normally again. One sign of this is little or no fluid draining into the chest tube. Another sign is no air leaking for 1 to 2 days. Your child may need a chest x-ray to make sure his or her lung is working as it should.
  • Your child may be given medicine to treat pain before the tube is removed. The tape will be removed. The stitches holding the tube in place will be loosened. Your child may need to breathe a certain way as the tube is taken out. Your child's healthcare provider will remove the tube. He or she may tighten the stitches to close the opening. He or she will cover the area with a bandage that will stop air from getting into your child's chest.

What are the risks of chest tubes in children?

Your child may get an infection, or the place where the tube goes in may bleed more than expected. Your child's organs, blood vessels, or nerves may get damaged. He or she could have chest pain after the procedure. He or she may need to have the procedure again if the tube gets pulled out. If your child's condition comes back after treatment, he or she may need another chest tube. The chest tube may not decrease your child's signs and symptoms. The healthcare provider may not be able to insert the tube. If this happens, your child may need to have another procedure or surgery.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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Further information

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