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Thoracentesis in Children: What to Expect at Home

Your Child's Recovery

Thoracentesis (say "thor-uh-sen-TEE-sis") is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall (pleural space). This procedure may also be called a "chest tap." It's normal to have a small amount of fluid in the pleural space. But too much fluid can build up because of problems such as infection or heart failure. The procedure may have been done to help with shortness of breath and pain caused by the fluid buildup. Or your child may have had this procedure so the doctor could test the fluid to find the cause of the buildup.

Your child's chest may be sore where the doctor put the needle or catheter into the skin (the puncture site). This usually gets better after a day or two. Your child can go back to his or her normal activities as soon as your child feels up to it.

If the doctor sent the fluid to a lab for testing, it may take several days to get the results. The doctor or nurse will discuss the results with you.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Have your child rest when he or she feels tired.
  • Allow your child's body to heal. Don't let your child move quickly or lift anything heavy until he or she is feeling better.
  • Your child may shower. Your child should not swim or take a bath until the puncture site has healed, or until the doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Many children are able to return to normal activities within 1 or 2 days after the procedure.

Diet

  • Your child can eat a normal diet.
  • Your child should drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells your child not to).

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • If your child takes aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to the doctor. He or she will tell you if and when your child can start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants your child to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, give them as directed. Do not stop giving them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Care of the puncture site

  • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it oozes fluid or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

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 severe trouble breathing.
  • Your child has sudden chest pain and shortness of breath or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has shortness of breath that is new or getting worse.
  • Your child has new or worse pain in the chest, especially when taking a deep breath.
  • Your child is sick to his or her stomach or can't keep fluids down.
  • Your child has a fever or chills.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your child's puncture site.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the puncture site.
    • Pus draining from the puncture site.
    • A fever.
  • Your child coughs up a lot more mucus than normal, or the mucus changes colour.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your nurse call line if your child has any problems.

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

Enter T360 in the search box to learn more about "Thoracentesis in Children: What to Expect at Home".

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.