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Tunneled Central Lines in Children


A tunneled central line is a type of IV catheter. A catheter is a flexible tube used to give treatments and to take blood. A tunneled central line is a catheter that you can see under your child's skin before it enters a large vein near his heart. A tunneled central line can stay in for several months.


Prevent catheter-based infections:

The area around your child's catheter may get infected, or he may get an infection in his bloodstream. A catheter-associated infection is caused by bacteria getting into your child's bloodstream through his catheter. Infections from catheters can lead to severe illness. The following are ways you can help prevent an infection:

  • Wash your hands: Use soap or an alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands. Clean your hands before and after you touch the catheter or the area where it is inserted. Ask your child's healthcare provider for information on how to wash your hands. Remind anyone who cares for your child's catheter to wash their hands.
  • Wear medical gloves: Wear clean medical gloves when you touch your child's catheter or change the bandages.
  • Limit contact: Do not touch or handle your child's catheter unless you need to care for it. Do not pull, push on, or move the catheter when you clean your child's skin or change the bandage. Teach your child not to pull on the catheter tails.
  • Clean your child's skin: Clean the skin around your child's catheter every day and just before you change the bandage. Ask your child's healthcare provider what to use to clean your child's skin.
  • Check for infection: Check your child's skin every day for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, and oozing. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you see these signs.
  • Cover the area: Keep a sterile bandage over the catheter site for as long as your child's healthcare provider directs. Your child may no longer need a bandage after his catheter site heals. Change the bandage as directed or when it is loose, wet, dirty, or falls off. Change your child's bandage in a place away from open windows, heating ducts, and fans. Be sure it is well-lit, clean, and free of dust. Clean the skin under the bandage with the solution your child's healthcare provider suggests. Let the area dry before you put on the new bandage.
  • Keep the area dry: Do not let your child's catheter or catheter site get wet. Cover the area with plastic and seal with medical tape before he bathes. Ask if your child should take showers instead of baths.

Care for your child's tunneled central line:

Your child's healthcare provider may want you to do the following to reduce your child's risk of infection or complications:

  • Clean the catheter parts: Clean the caps, hubs, and injection ports before you attach and after you remove tubing from your child's catheter. Open the package that contains the new alcohol pad. Put on new medical gloves. Use a new alcohol pad for each part you clean. Throw away used alcohol pads.
  • Flush your child's catheter: Your child's healthcare provider may give you syringes filled with saline (salt water) or heparin to flush your child's catheter. Heparin is a medicine that helps prevent blood clots from forming inside the catheter. Heparin can cause an allergic reaction or bleeding problems.
    • Attach the syringe that contains the flushing solution to the end of the catheter tubing. Slowly push the fluid out of the syringe and into the catheter. Throw the syringe away. Clean the end of the catheter or cap with a new alcohol pad.
    • Do not force the fluid. Force could damage the catheter, or release a blood clot from the end of the catheter. Straighten any kinks in the tubing. Contact your child's healthcare provider if it is still hard to push fluid into the catheter.
  • Change the medicine tubing: Your child may need extra tubing to get medicine. Ask your child's healthcare provider how often to change the caps and the medicine tubing.
  • Clamp the catheter: You may need to clamp your child's catheter at certain times, such as when the tubing is being changed. The catheter is clamped to help prevent air from getting in.
  • Loop extra tubing: Loosely loop the tubing together. Secure it to your child's body with medical tape. This will help prevent the catheter from being pulled out by accident.

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

Your child's healthcare provider may need to take out the stitches used to keep the catheter in place. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age:

Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

Activity guidelines:

Your child should not use the arm with the catheter to lift or push things. Ask healthcare providers about other activity guidelines with a central line.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • The catheter site is red, warm, painful, or oozing fluid.
  • You see blood on your child's bandage and the amount is increasing.
  • The veins in your child's neck or chest bulge.
  • You cannot flush your child's catheter, or your child feels pain when you flush his catheter.
  • You see that the catheter is getting shorter, or it falls out. Put pressure over the site with a clean towel.
  • You see a hole or a crack in your child's catheter. Clamp the catheter above the damage before you contact your child's healthcare provider.
  • You have questions about how to care for your child's catheter.
  • You run out of supplies to care for your child's skin or catheter.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has pain in his arm, neck, shoulder, or chest.
  • The catheter site turns cold, changes color, or your child tells you that he cannot feel it.
  • You see blisters on your child's skin around the catheter site.
  • Your child has chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.

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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.

Learn more about Tunneled Central Lines in Children (Aftercare Instructions)

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Further information

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