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Learning About Your Child's Central Venous Catheter: Changing the Dressing

Swabbing the edges of the site with a skin protector and covering the site with a dressing

What is a central venous catheter?

A central venous catheter is a thin, flexible tube. It's also called a central line or CVC. Central lines are used when your child needs to receive medicine, fluids, nutrients, or blood products for up to several weeks or more. The fluids are put through the central line so that they move quickly into your child's bloodstream. The same line can be used for a while, so your child isn't poked with a needle every time.

The point where the central line leaves the skin is called the exit site. Usually about 30 centimetres of the line stays outside of the body. Sometimes the line has two or three ends so your child can get more than one medicine at a time. These ends are called lumens. The end of each lumen is covered with a cap.

Sometimes the central line is completely under the skin. The central line may also be put in through a vein in your child's arm which is called a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter).

What are some tips for being safe with a central venous catheter?

  • Always wash your hands before you touch your child's central line.
  • Check the skin near the central line every day for signs of infection.

    These signs include pain, tenderness, swelling, drainage, pus, redness, and warmth at or near the exit site.

  • Make sure that your child doesn't get the exit site wet.

    When your child showers, cover the site with something waterproof, such as plastic wrap. Be sure to cover both the exit site and the central line cap(s).

  • If your child's central line has a clamp, keep it clamped when your child isn't using it.
  • Fasten or tape the central line to your child's body to prevent pulling or dangling.

    Remind your child not to play with the line or touch the open end of the line when the cap is off. You may need to repeat the reminder a few times.

  • Never use scissors, knives, pins, or other sharp objects near the central line or other tubing.
  • Avoid clothing that rubs or pulls on the central line.
  • Avoid bending or crimping the central line.

How do you change the dressing?

It's important to keep your child's central line dry for the first 72 hours after it's placed. Don't let your child exercise until your doctor says it's okay.

If your child has a gauze dressing, change it every 48 hours. If it's a clear plastic dressing, change it every 5 days. Also change the dressing if it is damp, bloody, loose, or dirty. The doctor may give you more directions for when to change the dressing.

Be sure you have all the supplies ready. These include medical tape, a surgical mask, medical gloves, the dressing, an applicator, and skin-protecting swabs. The names and brands of the items will vary. The doctor or nurse may give you specific instructions for changing the dressing.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for 15 to 30 seconds.

    Dry them with paper towels.

  2. Put on the surgical mask.
  3. Loosen and remove the old dressing.

    Peel the dressing toward the central line, not away from it. You may need to use an adhesive remover if the dressing doesn't come off easily.

  4. Check the area carefully.

    Look for redness, swelling, drainage, tenderness, or warmth. If you notice any of these, call the doctor.

  5. Wash your hands again, and put on the medical gloves.
  6. Clean the area.

    Use the applicator the doctor gave you, or use alcohol and swabs. Clean in an up-and-down or side-to-side motion. When you have finished, let the area dry for about 30 seconds.

  7. Swab the edges of the cleaned area with the skin protector.
  8. Cover the site.

    Take the gauze or remove the backing from the dressing the doctor gave you. Place it over the site.

  9. Tape the central line to your child's skin so it won't dangle or pull.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the exit site.
    • Pus or blood draining from the exit site.
    • A fever.
  • Your child's central line is leaking.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your child's line.
  • Your child's central line is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you or your child pulls on the central line.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any concerns about your child's central line.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.